Tuesday, July 22, 2008

School District removes obsolete playground equipment

“It’s mostly the old wooden structures that crumble and age, depending on how they are manufactured. We’ll see new ones going to a plastic-based playground because they seem to weather better.”-- Prince Rupert School District 52 Superintendent of Schools Eric Mercer outlining the background of recent changes to local school playgrounds.

The crews have been busy around the city the last few weeks, removing older playground equipment that may not be up to safety codes and pose a risk for those that use them. While many in the community are worried that the removal is just the thin wedge of a larger agenda to remove all equipment from school yards, that isn’t something that should hold much water.

Replacement plans are already in place for many of the obsolete structures taken away recently, mostly constructed of wood a process which will be replaced by more weather resistant and up to code plastic models. However budget concerns may delay the implementation of those plans for the near future.

The Daily News featured details of the replacement program in Monday’s paper.

Playgrounds pulled from schools
But the school district hopes to replace its obsolete apparatus
By Kris Schumacher
The Daily News
Pages one and five

Students in School District 52 will have a little less equipment to use during recess and after school, now that several pieces of playground apparatus have been permanently removed from Prince Rupert school yards.

Westview, Roosevelt and Lax Kxeen elementary schools all had old equipment taken out this month, because the structures no longer met Canada safety regulations and posed a risk to anyone using them.

Superintendent of Schools, Eric Mercer said it often happens that Canada-wide safety regulations are updated and older equipment must be taken out.

“They will be replaced, there’s just certain structures that needed to be removed,” said Mercer. “It’s mostly the old wooden structures that crumble and age, depending on how they are manufactured. We’ll see new ones going to a plastic-based playground because they seem to weather better.”

Wooden climbing apparatus at the front of Westview was among equipment that has already been removed. Under new regulations there must be a greater distance between equipment on playgrounds, which means the swing set will be moved to a different and more suitable location in the school yard. Wooden playground structures at Roosevelt and Lax Kxeen as also re-leveled to meet the new standards.

“It’s going to happen to a lot of our playgrounds, it’s just what has to happens,” said Mercer. “The standards are constantly updated. The last time I encountered it was fairly recently back in Saskatchewan, where we had to tear out all our playgrounds at all of our schools. We all struggled with that, because many schools had just completed them, only to find out that they didn’t meet code.

Mercer noted that playgrounds are extremely expensive to buy and install, with $100,000 barely getting a school district a decent new set-up, meaning the task of getting new playgrounds for School District 52 is an ongoing battle for district staff and the Parent Advisory Councils who fundraise. What is good news for the district and particularly Pineridge students is the new inclusive playground that will be built at the west-end elementary school.

“We’re right at a decision-making point for who will build that,” said Mercer. “We’re very attentive to code and hope that it will have some longevity to it, because it’s going to be an extensive playground.”

The playgrounds at Kanata and Seal Cove schools, both of which are now permanently closed, have remained intact for the course of the summer so that their respective communities can still enjoy them. However, the district cannot leave the playgrounds on the property of schools that have been closed for liability reasons, so those playgrounds will also be removed sometime in the fall. Mercer said that whatever pieces of equipment still meet safety standards will be reallocated to existing elementary schoolyards, but anything that doesn’t meet code will not be allowed to remain in use anywhere.

“We’ll have to assess what will go where and of course we have to evaluate that based on the number of students moving into the Conrad and Lax Kxeen catchment areas,” said Mercer. “We made it clear that we wanted to have supports follow the students to their new schools, wherever they may come in.”

With limited funds to implement all the aspects of the District Achievement Plan and with numerous staff already having been cut, it may be tough for the district to justify any spending on new playgrounds in the coming school year. However, Mercer said the district is continuing to look partnerships with the city and other groups to develop playground areas close to schools.

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