Parents caught up in playground politics

When students at Discovery Passage Elementary School ran outside to play last Wednesday they found their playground looking like a “murder scene,” Jessica Taylor says.

Members of the Discovery Passage School Parents Advisory Committee are upset the School District is tearing down the school’s playground equipment leaving them with the financial burden of replacing it.

When students at Discovery Passage Elementary School ran outside to play last Wednesday they found their playground looking like a “murder scene,” Jessica Taylor says.

The wooden climber with a slide, swinging chains, planks and small monkey bars is draped in red tape and even more tape is strung around the perimeter of the playground. To ensure no one wanders onto the climber, bright yellow warning gates block the four corners of the playground.

Last November the four-person parents advistory council (PAC) finished a seven-year fundraising effort to install a new $10,000 addition to the old playground.

Last week, School District 72 determined the old playground is too unsafe for further use and is to be demolished. It’s now up to the the 77-student school’s PAC to replace it.

“It’s pretty upsetting,” says Taylor, treasurer of the school’s PAC. “There’s new kindergarten students coming in September and we’re not going to have a playground for them.”

Taylor says it’s unfortunate the PAC didn’t know sooner the old playground would have to be replaced.

If it had, she says the PAC would have purchased something different. The addition is more geared towards the older students, leaving the younger kids with nothing to play on.

“My stepdaughter has hurt feelings because she can’t play on the playground anymore. The kids need to play outside but there’s not enough room for them now. A lot of kids have to just stand around on the sidelines and watch,” said Taylor.

Because the budget won’t allow it, the district has no plans to replace the playground equipment which is scheduled to be torn down Feb. 18, a Pro-D day, while students are not at school.

Jim Ansell, assistant superintendent of schools, said typically a school’s PAC is responsible for funding school playgrounds because the district can’t afford to provide every school with a new playground.

“I understand their dilemma. It’s a really small school and fundraising is a challenge. It’s something we’re concerned about but we don’t have the money. We are getting an infusion of funds for all-day kindergarten this year and perhaps the school can choose to put some of that towards a playground,” said Ansell, referring to the $58 million from the province to fund all-day kindergarten in 2011/2012. Taylor says a decent playground would cost roughly $30,000, or more, and considering how long it took the PAC to raise enough money for the addition, a new playground could be hard to come by.

“It would take us 10 to 15 years to fundraise that much money,” said parent Gene Belanko.

The existing wooden play structure was built in 1995 and has been beaten up by the weather.

“It had to come down because it was rotting. We do routine inspections on all of our playgrounds and crews found it to be unsafe. They were able to push a screw driver right through one of the wooden poles,” said Ansell, who added that although he’s not aware of any other schools in the same situation, there is a constant cycle of having to tear down and build new playgrounds as the wood structures deteriorate.

Taylor says the PAC will continue to fundraise but is in desperate need of some financial help.

The Discovery Passage PAC operates on a $7,050 yearly budget which goes towards supplying the school with sports equipment, earthquake kits, art supplies, day planners, tech support and the library.

“A lot of things kids have in school are supplied by us but not a lot of people realize that,” says Taylor.

Anyone who would like to help support the school can contact the PAC by e-mailing discoverypassagepac@hotmail.com or by calling the school at 250-287-3836.