Calgary schools still waiting 3 years later for playgrounds
Government pledged $20 million over 4 years to ease fundraising burden on parents
As new schools sprout up in Calgary's suburban communities, there's still something missing from the school yard: playgrounds. An important piece of infrastructure, experts say, where kids come together to burn off some energy, make new friends and develop physical and cognitive skills.
But there is a backlog of unbuilt play structures that has stretched into a third year for several schools.
Eleven public and Catholic schools are still without playgrounds — only four are eligible for funding under a provincial program announced in 2017. The other seven schools did not meet the province's funding criteria and have to come up with the money on their own.
The following Calgary Board of Education schools are still waiting for playgrounds:
- New Brighton, Grades K-4, opened in 2016.
- Copperfield, Grades K-4, opened in 2016.
- Kenneth D. Taylor, Grades K-4, Evanston, opened in 2016.
- William D. Pratt, Grades 4-9, Royal Oak, opened in 2016.
- Peter Lougheed, Grades 5-9, Saddleridge, opened in 2016.
Schools in the Calgary Catholic School District without playgrounds:
- Apostles of Jesus, Grades K-9, Skyview, opened in 2017.
- Blessed Marie-Rose, Grades K-9, Sherwood, opened in 2018.
- Divine Mercy, Grades K-6, Mahogany, opened in 2018.
- Prince of Peace, Grades K-9, Auburn Bay, opened in 2016.
- Our Lady of Grace, Grades K-9, Evanston, opened in 2016.
- Guardian Angel, Grades K-6, Aspen, opened in 2017.
A public education advocate said government needs to step up to help fund school playgrounds to level the playing field, so to speak.
Playgrounds absolutely necessary
Barb Silva, one of the co-founders of Support Our Students, said the provincial government's $20-million pledge to help pay for playgrounds has helped alleviate "some stress for schools," but she said parents are still focused on fundraising for various projects, including playgrounds that cost more than the $250,000 grant.
The more affluent and well-organized parent councils are much more likely to have successful fundraising campaigns and even attract corporate sponsorships.
"We know there are schools that don't even have parent councils, so that's a distinct disadvantage," said Silva.
She said it's even more difficult for parents with English as their second language or people who are unfamiliar with the grant request process.
"These are all hoops and barriers that make it really difficult for marginalized communities to access that funding," she said.
Having a playground at an elementary school is absolutely necessary.- Barb Silva, Support Our Students
"Having a playground at an elementary school is absolutely necessary, it's part of physical literacy, it helps children learn better and it builds community,"
"We don't think that these are things that should have an asterisk or caveats to them, they should be accessible to all children, they should be considered part and parcel of the education process," she said.
The following playgrounds have been funded since the provincial government announced the four-year, $20 million playground program, according to a government spokesperson:
- Auburn Bay School.
- Buffalo Rubbing Stone School.
- Dr. Roberta Bondar School.
- Eric Harvie School.
- Hugh A. Bennett School.
- Manmeet Singh Bhullar School.
- McKenzie Highlands School.
- Ron Southern School.
Big play structures not the only option
A child development expert said schools and parents should consider other options when it comes to playground equipment and structures. She said some kids can get bored with the more traditional playground equipment.
"Often if you watch children on any playground with play structures, as they become more and more familiar with them they tend to lose their appeal and sometimes children get rather bored with them," said Linda Sutherby, an associate professor in the child studies program at Mount Royal University.
Sutherby said natural play structures should be considered as an alternative.
Natural playgrounds can include some traditional features such as slides and walking bridges but are built into the landscape or made with materials such as wood, logs and rope.
"I think if we could move forward with those kinds of ideas, that yes we could have some structures but then we could also have some alternatives to that so children could have more innovation in their play," she said.
"There would be more wonder and curiosity, more imagination, more creativity around what they're doing and how they're trying to do things and learn about how their bodies move," she said.
Silva said it's unfortunate that parents have to sell raffle tickets and chocolate almonds to get playgrounds built — she said government needs to find a way to get this done, even it it means bringing in a sales tax.
"Increasingly we are accessing user fees and privatizing the process and creating have and have not schools when it comes to the educational literacy of our children," she said.
The provincial funding was meant to cover playground costs for all new schools announced between 2014 and 2018. When the announcement was made in June 2017, more than 50 schools were eligible for the funding. Anything over the $250,000 grant would have to be covered through fundraising.
The government said it is now considering funding playgrounds at schools announced before 2013 and have asked school districts to submit their top priorities for funding.
Bryan Labby is an enterprise reporter with CBC Calgary. If you have a good story idea or tip, you can reach him at email@example.com or on Twitter at @CBCBryan.
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