By Stan Ashbee
Sunny South News
Kids, of all ages, need a safe, accessible and inclusive place to play in any community. Recently, a group of community members came together to build a new playground at Coalhurst Elementary School (CES) — a project, long in the making.
“It’s been about two and a half years in the making. Along with the playground build, we’re also correcting drainage issues that have been long outstanding in this area,” said Chelsey Hurt, on Day One of the long-awaited playground build Aug. 26. Hurt is the playground build committee chair for the Friends of Coalhurst Elementary School Society and she is also treasurer of the CES parent council.
Hurt noted Palliser Regional Schools made the decision to tear down the wooden playground in front of the school and replace it with a parking lot in the location instead of a new playground.
“Our only option was to move the playground to the back of the school. We knew, if we were going to put in a playground worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, we needed to make sure it was going to stand the test of time but more importantly, the area would be safe for the kids,” she explained. She added the new playground will be an accessible playground and it would defeat the purpose if there’s ice in the winter across the area for the kids, so work needed to be done in regards to the drainage issues prior to the build.
Back at the beginning, Hurt took on the role of applying for grants for the new playground and researched fundraising options for the build project.
“It just headed up a team of great parents and teachers that helped out along the way,” she said.
The group raised close to $280,000 with $100,000 in funding coming from an Alberta government grant.
“The Town of Coalhurst came through in a huge way for us and donated $60,000. All their support and manpower to come take out gravel that was covering the site and do all the prep work — I’ve been on the phone with the town almost every day for the summer and have built great relationships with them. I’m sure they’re going to be happy to see this through. They put in just as much work as we have,” Hurt added.
Other big funders included Richardson Oil Seed in the amount of $25,000 and local sponsorships came on board for the project including the Community Foundation of Lethbridge and Southwestern Alberta with a donation of $10,000 and a wishlist piece of playground equipment grant from Farm Credit Canada and Lethbridge County stepped up with donating two separate grants in support of the playground build.
According to Hurt, the new playground will feature equipment geared towards children with developmental issues and it will be more accessible for kids with any developmental issues at the school or in the community. “It’s a school and community playground. About 50 per cent of the kids that attend Coalhurst school have a coded disability and it’s the most inclusive school in the school division and southern Alberta. We knew we had a lot of kids we needed to help address their special needs,” she said.
One thing the group knew it had to do was build a playground specifically for that 0-4 age group.
“Many school playgrounds at elementary schools, they kind of target in around the six and up age group. We knew we needed a little playground just to meet the needs of those that haven’t even hit the school system yet. If we can target them early, by addressing those physical mobility and even social development, they would have a more successful introduction into the elementary school,” she said.
A second thing the group knew it had to do was create a playground that would also appeal to the majority of the kids at the school. “Still, that six and up kind of crowd, but then we also added in unique pieces that would be a fit for kids with autism spectrum disorder or visual impairments. Some of our pieces like the Cozy Cocoon, it creates a safe little environment for kids that have sensory disorders. Then the vision impairment, we wanted to make sure we have one smooth surface and equipment that stands out and doesn’t blend into the environment. The steps are going to be all marked for anyone with depth perception issues, as well,” she said.
“I would dare say it would become an exceptionally inclusive playground for our community. It will be the only one in our community that is an inclusive accessible playground,” she added. The area will also feature a greenspace with built-in picnic tables and benches. “It will become a bit of a park, as well.”
The playground build was held from the Aug. 26 Friday until the following Monday but it will be a few more weeks until the final piece of equipment arrives in Coalhurst. “There’s one piece we got custom ordered and it’s going to be exclusive to all playgrounds in southern Alberta — it’s the first one our vendors has ever installed in Alberta before. It’s going to be a super climber. It’s going to be about double the size of the usual climbers you see in playgrounds. But then we also added a slide to it — a big huge tunnel slide. We chose to do that because, for any kid of any ability, lots of them get to the top and are afraid to get down. We wanted to make it so equipment wouldn’t preclude them from playing on it. They could still get to the bottom safely,” she said, adding the final piece of equipment is expected to be installed in the next few weeks.
Over the Aug. 26 weekend, Hurt noted, there were two shifts each day with 20 volunteers for each shift on each day, which included many members of the Coalhurst community. “This belongs to the Town of Coalhurst. We hand it over after to them,” said Hurt.
Other playground committee members include Tara Grindle, Jill Rauda and Karmyn Bates.
Hurt noted the committee members were instrumental in assisting with the school-based fundraising and the team showed up to all the CES-planned events to raise monies including a parents’ band night at Average Joe’s in Lethbridge, highway clean-up, and even a Turkey Bingo.
“Countless volunteer hours were put in by Tara, Jill and Karmyn and in doing so they’ve shaped CES for many years to come. The playground is just a reflection of the hours they’ve put in,” Hurt said.