Media appeared in droves to witness the opening of Gordon Bell High School’s new green space on Monday last week.
"Oh my goodness, I almost fell over when I got here," said school principal Arlene Skull of the media horde.
Grade 8 student Rio Whitesell was a little more introspective about all the attention.
"I was like, ‘uh, that’s a lot of people," he said.
The happy ending of a story five years in the making was bound to attract attention.
The fuse was lit in 2008 after Gordon Bell alumnus Nancy Chippendale’s opinion piece ‘Field of Dreams’ was published in the Winnipeg Free Press.
Students, parents and staff mobilized to secure the 2.5 acres of pie-shaped land at the southeast corner of Portage Avenue and Broadway from Canada Post, which was planning to build a letter-carrier sorting facility there.
They celebrated when the province stepped in and bought the land for $3.8 million and threw in another $1.5 million for site cleanup and development, but their work was not over.
To build the "green dream," as the school has coined it, they needed more money. A fundraising thermometer pictured a lofty goal of $900,000.
"It was so much money, and it felt so formidable so often, and what kept us going was the childrens’ stories," Skull said.
Those stories included tales like that of a 13-year-old student who told Skull she couldn’t wait to sit on some grass, under a tree.
Skull thought that was a "strange comment."
She took a drive to where the girl lived — an apartment block on an inner-city street with no boulevard. No grass, no trees.
"That explained it," Skull said.
Then there was the low-income student who brought in pennies each week.
"He told us he wanted that green space because now his grandpa, who is handicapped, can walk to the school and watch him play," Skull said.
"So, you hear that and you go, ‘OK, time to fundraise some more.’"
Before the new space, which is an Astroturf field surrounded by living turf berms and sidelines, students had only a hardtop area on the school’s east side. To play organized sports, they had to travel to other schools.
"It’s nice to have a field that you can actually call yours, and not go to some other school to do this," said Grade 12 student Jonathan Prince, who sunned himself on a grassy berm next to the field last Tuesday.
Taking a break from playing lacrosse, Prince said the hardtop was "hard on the knees," when he did drills for track and field.
Grade 11 student Rebecka Clark, who plays "all the sports," said road rash was a common side effect of the hardtop. She herself sprained her wrist on it.
"It’s softer to fall on," Clark said of the new field.
"You can actually push people and tackle them for the ball."
The green space isn’t finished. The plan is to add lighting atop cascading poles that support steel netting at each end of the playing field, as well as a stage, an outdoor classroom, more trees, and prairie grass in the unfinished corner closest to Portage Avenue and Broadway.
To date the school has raised, and mostly spent, $508,000 and has a goal of raising about $350,000 more to complete green space improvements for their 750 students, Skull said.
"There’s a whole lot more we need to do to make it usable for more than athletics," she said.
On Broadway the school’s sign flashes "continue the green dream," with an invitation to donors to visit www.gordonbell.ca/paypal