École Bannatyne School will see work on the second phase of its natural playground begin shortly, and for parent council president Angela Janzen Roth, it’s a welcome milestone.
"Now this is the exciting part, of actually coming to action, but for years the committee and I have been writing grant applications and doing research."
Janzen Roth capped off fundraising for the project with a visit to the Assiniboia Community Committee on May 7, which granted the parent council’s request for a $7,500 Community Incentive Grant with little fanfare.
Add to that a grant for almost $3,000 from the Evergreen Foundation, a $2,600 Home Depot gift card, and $12,000 fundraised by the parent council and most of the funding for the $37,000 project is in place.
A Community Places Program grant request for about $10,000 and a Manitoba Community Services Grant for about $1,600 are yet to be approved.
The first phase of the natural playground at the Thompson Drive school was completed in 2011 at a cost of almost $64,000. It included a 400 metre gravel pathway dotted with trees, a 25-foot diameter circle of paving stones edged with 11 large Tyndall blocks to form an outdoor classroom, landscaped hills and a 32-foot ground-level maze.
About 6,000 square feet of old asphalt was removed to make way for the improvements, which Janzen Roth said have led to other groups in the community to utilize the school grounds.
"And after school too, the amount of parents that are staying and sitting around in the outdoor classroom and watching their kids playing and stuff… it has just been really good for community building."
The coming phase will see a wiggle wall, boulders added to a tree circle, a perennial garden and 11 more trees planted (totalling 29), and an open-concept stage circled with musical elements.
As was the case in 2011, another Home Depot build day will contribute to the project on June 22. The retailer runs a program called Team Depot that sends employee volunteers out to help with community projects.
They also contribute material, which included things like lumber, brick, plants, soil, and mulch in 2011.
Janzen Roth said volunteers at the last Home Depot build day, which included parents, staff and grandparents, numbered about 80 and she’s hoping for more this year.
According to the grant application to the city, the birth of the school’s natural playground began in 2006 when the parent council’s playground committee became involved with the Manitoba Nature Coalition and subsequently attended workshops and toured schools that had already created natural playgrounds.
In 2008, the community was surveyed and the resulting wish list eventually transformed into a site plan.
"This is the end result of the dream…it’s really exciting to see it come together," Janzen Roth said.
Students at the K-5 school, which number about 240, are the ones who are gaining the most from the realization of that dream, she said, as the new spaces have increased their time outside and sparked imaginations.
"With this whole naturalizing, it’s amazing what they do… they talk about going to other countries when they go to the other side (of the hill), they take it so (far) beyond what we see it as," Janzen Roth said.
The naturalized elements "let kids explore… to smell and touch and play with things that sometimes, as adults, we’ve forgotten how to do," she said.
Principal Roné Boyko could hardly find the words to express how impressed she was, having only been at the school for a year, to see the level of commitment and co-operation between the school and community for the project.
The students are now "gaining a greater understanding of how important it is to take care of the earth and each other," Boyko said.