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Floradale PS seeks new playground

Floradale PS Grade 6 students Leah Kuepfer, Mercy Steenbergen and Isabella Moes hang out at the school’s outdated playground. [Veronica Reiner / The Observer]

Going inclusive and safer comes with a $34,000 price tag as parents at Floradale Public School look to raise money for a new playground.

The new equipment they’ve got their eyes on would sit beside outdated structures that have been deemed unsafe for younger students. The new playground would provide an inclusive atmosphere accessible to kids of all ages, as there is currently no playground for the kindergarten students, organizers say.

The fundraising effort is spearheaded by parent council members Azalea Carlaw and Kendra Whitfield-Ellis, with help from school principal Shawn Thompson.

Thompson said that the need arose after a change in legislation that occurred several years ago.

“There was a new law put into place about four or five years ago that there has to be a certain height for kids to be able to go on … so that they’re able to jump from one part to another,” said Thompson, noting that height requirement is four feet.

He noted that this change affected numerous schools across the province, including during his time as a principal at Linwood Public School. The playground there was replaced in 2017 after a report said that the former structure had drops too high for younger students to play on safely.

The effort to replace the Floradale equipment has been a long time coming, according to Carlaw, whose oldest child has attended the school since 2014. She said that a quick change in staffing – particularly the sudden passing of principal Andrew Beddoe – made it difficult for administrators to fully focus on the need for a new playground.

“I believe the playground has always needed an upgrade,” said Carlaw. “The [kindergarten students] usually play on the tarmac, … which is kind of detrimental. Play-based learning is integral for child development, so we want to have something out there that all the kids can use.”

Now, the project is finally starting to get into motion. The organizing committee solicited three quotes and concept drawings, then narrowed the choice down to two.

From those two playground concept drawings, the Floradale PS students voted for which structure they liked best. Students in all 13 classes voted overwhelmingly in favour of a mainly plastic and metal structure designed by Newmarket-based playground equipment supplier Blue Imp.

“It was different because it was a climbing structure,” said Thompson, noting that seeing the final product helped to build student enthusiasm for the project. “This was climbing, webs, things like that. So something completely different that they liked.”

The real challenge will be coming up with the money, as the Waterloo Region District School Board does not financially assist with playground equipment. Furthermore, Floradale PS is among the smallest schools in the Waterloo Region with just some 250 students and 16 staff members. The majority of the students are of Mennonite background and “don’t believe in fundraising,” said Carlaw.

The total cost will be $33,900: $21,573 for the equipment, $960 for shipping, and $7,920 for installation. The parent council made their case to Woolwich council earlier this month, requesting $10,000, but no final decisions have been made yet. In the meantime, they have been asking businesses and individuals in the community for any funds that they can provide, looking at provincial grants that may be able to help, and considering fundraising avenues such as a year-end barbecue.

“The support from the community has been amazing,” said Carlaw. “We’ve already got $7,120 in sponsorships, and we have only been canvassing businesses for about a month now. We’re working hard.”

The decision for whether or not council funding will be made in January, when councillors set the 2020 budget.

“Typically, we don’t invest because we have such an infrastructure deficit on our own, so we don’t usually invest in private property,” said Woolwich recreation director Ann McArthur. “So, council will have to deliberate that … whether it’s important to make a contribution, not fully funding.”

The lifespan of an average playground is about 15 years. This is not the first time a local school has come forward to ask for funding for a new playground, as Riverside PS requested $18,000 back in 2018 to go towards the construction of an all-naturalized playground. Woolwich council ultimately decided that the community was responsible for raising the money, as is the case with similar recreation projects. It took about five years to raise the full $96,000 to move forward with it, in Riverside’s situation. However, this ask is substantially smaller, said McArthur.

“Council is kind of cautious about setting some precedent,” said McArthur. “What we do with one school, and not with another school kind of thing.”

The township is also looking at replacing the community playground in the hamlet, so it’s facing its own budget constraints. With that in mind, Coun. Larry Shantz suggested looking at some the possibility of shared resources.

If all goes well for them, the group’s goal to get the project finished within the next year or two. Carlaw said that anyone who wished to donate could make it out to the Waterloo Education Foundation Inc. (WEFI) with the memo Floradale PS, which would allow them to provide a tax receipt. Alternatively, cheques can be made out to Floradale PS.

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