Playgrounds are big business. Did you know that one piece of play equipment suitable for an elementary school has a starting price tag of $50,000? A full design can easily cost in excess of $150,000, then you have to consider landscaping and accessibility. A quick internet search finds more than half a dozen Canadian companies manufacturing equipment, not to mention several U.S-based companies who sell here as well.
Now think of all the parent-run organizations trying to work their way through this maze of what’s available, what’s a competitive price, and where the money is going to come from. It’s a daunting task.
I’ve been closely watching the fundraising efforts to replace the All World Super Play Park, the ‘wooden castle’ playground located behind Frank L. Bowser Elementary in Riverview. The park was built in 1994, with a lot of community help. The wooden structure is showing its age, though, and a committee is trying to raise $500,000 to replace the playground. Parents are applying for grants, asking for donations, holding paint nights, and teaming up on a Chase the Ace fundraiser. It’s a huge undertaking.
Not long ago, it was the parents of Riverview East making headlines, working toward a similar goal. Because it was a new K-8 school, the province provided $80,000 of the playground cost. Seaside Park Elementary in Saint John recently opened without playground equipment for the 475 young students attending classes there.
Parents across the region are trying to raise large sums of money so that their children can be active and engaged on their school playgrounds. Perhaps it’s time for us to create a provincial, or even East Coast, organization similar to Calgary’s Parks Foundation. This non-profit helps groups, including schools, to build playgrounds, offering support and grants. An organization like this can help ensure that each parent-led fundraising group isn’t starting from scratch, researching grant opportunities, sourcing playground equipment, and getting up-to-date on the latest trends and standards. Decisions on what type of structures to purchase, themes to be used in design, and elements such as community gardens would still be left to individual groups. Money would still need to be raised. But having a support system to rely on for some basic guidance on how to best spend money and resources could make these fundraising groups much more efficient.
It has been common practice in various provinces for the majority of playground costs to be fundraised by parent organizations. Things are changing, though, as society focuses more on the preventative benefits of keeping children active. British Columbia is reviewing how it funds playgrounds, particularly those schools that need replacements and repairs. Alberta recently announced a four-year, $20 million fund that will offer $250,000 grants to elementary schools building new playgrounds. Maybe a New Brunswick review will be offered as an election promise?
I think we can all agree a well-designed playground, with a mix of equipment that is appealing to various ages and accessibilities, is an important element for an elementary school. I think we can also agree that expecting the province to spend millions each year on creating and rebuilding playgrounds is likely a pipedream, given our resources. But I think we can also agree that $80,000 is a drop in the bucket when it comes to playground creation, and it leaves those schools who need to upgrade out in the cold. A non-profit organization that could help both schools and community groups with the logistical aspects of creating and upgrading play spaces could be a huge help to ensuring no more schools are built in New Brunswick without a proper playground for our children.
A version of this post appeared originally as one of Jenna Morton’s three-year weekly column for the Times & Transcript.