École North Oyster vying for $100K prize to build accessible playground

New playground would be gathering place for community

École North Oyster children race around at recess making mud pies in the forest and breaking rocks like little construction workers, but it’s a playground that meets the needs of the growing school where students’ imaginations are truly inspired.

The school is now among 10 finalist vying for a $100,000 prize as part of the BCAA Play Here contest.

“The feeling has just been incredible. The kids have just been over the moon and excited,” said principal Jacqueline Dunn told the Chronicle. “It would really be life-changing for our kids. These foundational movement skills that they’re developing now are going to carry them through life and help them learn to love physical activity and it’s going to give them something positive to do outside that they really deserve.”

Voting started over the weekend and continues through to Sunday, June 17, with any B.C. residents having an opportunity to cast four votes each daily using Facebook, Google and Twitter accounts as well as through email.

RELATED: Vote for École North Oyster in the Play Here contest

Current equipment at the Cedar Road school was overrun in 2014 when the closing of École Davis Road and subsequent amalgamation meant the student population grew from 80 to over 300.

North Oyster, which is the school district’s only dual-track school providing French Immersion and English programs, is now expecting enrollment of 340 students come September.

Making matters worse is the fact that the current play area is inaccessible to a parent or child with mobility issues because the surface is pea gravel and there aren’t any pathways leading to the playground.

Active PAC member and play space committee lead Chrissie Stephen has worked for the past four years to bring playground improvements to the school. She’s also personally raised $4,000 of the $35,000 that’s already been collected.

“Kids that do have mobility issues are isolated,” said Stephen, adding that even a child who twists their ankle would have to sit on the sidelines. “The design that we have is going to be an open and flowing design that’s going to allow the kids to be social and play and be inclusive of anyone who has any challenges.”

Stephen works as a physiotherapist in Ladysmith and feels that the children currently aren’t developing skills like “climbing, learning what their capabilities are and how to challenge themselves.”

“They’re missing a lot of upper extremity strength, how to climb and pull, spatial orientation and balance,” she noted.

Student Giles Southwell, 7, said to have a new playground would mean a lot. He’d like something new in the school and he wants his mom to come play with him, something Southwell said his mom can’t quite do now because she’s in a scooter.

Lily Schaan, 9, said she’s been going around asking for people’s votes.

“I would like people to vote because then we’d have a whole bunch of new playground equipment and people in the wheelchairs can play on it, everyone is included,” she said.

Presently, a swing set and slide are about the only equipment available to children.

They’ve also found adventure in the nearby forest but part of that area had to be roped off last year because of heavy foot traffic, and the same was done this year.

“We’re worried that we might lose that beautiful asset of the forest if the kids don’t have anywhere else to play,” said Dunn. “We also just see the walking around a lot so it would be nice to have a structure that would engage them.”

All that could change if North Oyster continues its strong push towards the top.

As of Friday at noon, Cache Creek Elementary, which is also seeking playground improvements, led the way with just over 10,000 votes. North Oyster followed close behind with 9,100 and the community of MacKenzie, which is also seeking to build a playground in a regional park, was in third.

Locally, there isn’t another playground nearby and Sense of Place childcare across the road is also a regular user of the North Oyster playground and stands to benefit.

“The community could be much more impacted by us having a better playground,” Stephen said. “We’re the only playground within a seven kilometre radius and it is a thoroughfare. People are coming from Cedar through to town, Yellow Point, and there’s nothing for the kids to play on.”

Another fundraiser underway allows anyone to purchase an engraved brick to be included in the new playground.

The $100,000 from BCAA Play Here would allow construction to start this summer.

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