Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Oasis in a concrete jungle

Rejuvenated Central Park a place for kids, families

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A light dusting of snow obscures colourful chalk drawings on the concrete path that winds around Central Park's play structure.

The drawings are like echoes from the children who enjoyed last week's amazing weather; evidence of the joy the park brings to Winnipeg's youngest residents.

"It's a little oasis in the middle of downtown," said Lois Coward, Niigaanaki Day Care Centre's executive director.

Inner-city daycares faced limited outdoor activity options before the park's revitalization was completed in 2010 at a cost of $5.6 million.

Often they would just walk with the children around city streets.

The park simply wasn't an option before rejuvenation. "It was falling apart," said Coward.

"Now we use it at least four days a week," she said. Children from Niigaanki encountered another daycare group at the park during an outing last week and were able to hold an impromptu soccer game.

Central Park, bounded by Cumberland Avenue on the north and Ellice Avenue on the south, became a destination for neighbourhood children and families.

A central green space, surrounded by picnic tables and benches, is sandwiched between the south side's play structure and the north side's modern splash park.

A glass structure immediately draws a person's eye to the splash park. The structure is an aesthetically pleasing pumphouse that also contains change rooms, showers and bathrooms. The entire area is fenced in.

Last summer, the Niigaanaki Day Care's children took full advantage of the new splash park to escape the heat.

A gothic fountain, adjacent to the splash park, is Central Park's most intriguing feature.

Located amid the park's modern facilities, the fountain anchors Central Park to the historic buildings found throughout the downtown.

Two things could be added to the park to make it more child-friendly, according to the daycare.

Toddlers can't use the park's current play structure. Regulations force daycares to measure play structures to determine how tall children must be before they can be allowed to use them.

Secondly, safety would be improved if a fence, similar to the splash park's, was erected around the play structure to lessen the chance of a child wandering off.

Coward's enthusiasm for the park hasn't been dampened by these minor issues. "It's a fantastic thing," she said. "It's great to see that somebody believed in the space."

kelly.graham@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 10, 2012 A2

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