Students at EJ Dunn Elementary School in Port Alberni are finally getting a new universally-accessible playground, thanks to $105,000 in provincial funding announced by the Ministry of Education this week.
EJ Dunn principal Stacey Manson said they received the news over the phone from Mid Island-Pacific Rim MLA Scott Fraser on Tuesday, May 8. “When we shared the news with our entire school in the gym, the students were also super excited,” she said.
Because it was originally built as a middle school and only converted to an elementary school a few years ago, EJ Dunn lacks the play spaces that usually support early learning and active children. In 2017, the school’s Parent Advisory Council (PAC) entered the BCAA’s Play Here—an online voting contest that provides up to $100,000 for community play spaces. The school placed among the top 10 finalists, but was not selected as one of the final three prizewinners. Members of the PAC have been fundraising for the cost, so the province’s announcement was welcome news.
“We are extremely excited and have appreciated all the support from our community,” said EJ Dunn vice-principal Maghen Girard.
EJ Dunn PAC chair Shelby Kuhn also thanked the community for all of its support over the years. “We love our EJ Dunn School and are looking forward to the new play space,” she added.
Students at EJ Dunn already have plenty of ideas for a play space. Grade 1 student Mia Hopkins said she would like to see a slide and monkey bars, while her classmate Abby Cootes would like to see a “spiderweb” structure made out of ropes.
“I think it will be very fun,” said Hopkins. “We’ll have safer places to play with our friends.”
“It’s good because people won’t fall off the diamonds,” added Cootes, referring to the diamond-shaped play structure—EJ Dunn’s only playground equipment—outside of the school.
“We’re really excited that we’re going to be able to use the money that the government has given us,” said Manson. “But we also have dreams of having other physical literacy activities and games on school grounds. We’re going to continue to fundraise for that.”
Approximately $11,000 had been fundraised by the PAC as of January of this year, and the school held a “Play Day” on Jan. 20 to collect ideas and plans for a play space at the elementary school. Former parks, recreation and heritage manager Theresa Kingston helped to seek input from kids and community members and put together a “Student and Community Engagement Report” for the PAC.
“We got lots of really good information from community members,” said Manson. “The playground that we will be building will take in that input.”
The funding for EJ Dunn Elementary is part of a new, ongoing provincial Playground Equipment Program that will provide up to $5 million each year to school districts to purchase new or replacement playgrounds.
“The PAC at EJ Dunn has been fundraising for a new playground for years, an unacceptable burden for parents who just want a safe and accessible place for their kids to play,” said Scott Fraser in a press release. “We said we were going to fund school playgrounds so parents could focus on their children, and our government has delivered.”
The school will be forming planning, communications and further fundraising committees going forward. If you are interested in volunteering to be part of one of the committees, you can contact Manson at 250-720-1414.