Despite the stormy weather, preschoolers dressed in rain gear were happy to clamber over the new playground equipment at EJ Dunn Elementary School during a grand opening celebration on Tuesday, Oct. 26.
The school celebrated the official opening of two new playgrounds. One of them is a playground for intermediate students at EJ Dunn, while the other is an outdoor play space for preschoolers at the Family Hub (which is based out of EJ Dunn).
In May 2021, the province announced funding for more than 170 new licensed child-care spaces across the Alberni Valley, and $50,000 of this funding went to the the Family Hub.
“With that money we were able to create an additional 10 preschool spots,” explained Stacey Manson, district principal of community development with School District 70 (Pacific Rim). “And this beautiful play space behind us for our preschoolers.”
One of EJ Dunn’s tennis courts was converted to an accessible outdoor play space. The play space includes a number of wooden structures for students to play on, as well as plenty of native plants. The Family Hub will be adding garden beds in the spring so children can plant their own crops. Students at EJ Dunn Elementary School will also be able to share the new play space.
One of the structures in the play space is a red and white wooden fire truck that was constructed by Larry McGifford, the city’s former fire chief. The fire truck was previously located at Eighth Avenue Learning Centre.
“We wanted to keep it as natural as possible,” said Carrie Nahorney, manager of the AV Learning Lab Preschool at the Family Hub. “We wanted it to be organic and adaptable, so it can grow with the children. It feels like a magical little garden.”
Next to the fenced play space is a playground for intermediate students at EJ Dunn Elementary School. While EJ Dunn received a new playground back in 2019, the school’s Parent Advisory Council (PAC) also worked for many years to fundraise for a “part two” of the playground, located on the north side of the school.
“Now the school is so fortunate to have two, safe, attractive spaces for kids and families to play and interact together outdoors,” said Pam Craig, SD70 board of education chair.
Carly Gudjonson, representing the EJ Dunn PAC, thanked school staff, students and district maintenance staff for their help in constructing the new playground. The playground is a bit of an obstacle course, complete with a large rope-climbing structure.
“It might not be the biggest playground, the most extravagant playground,” said Gudjonson. “But it’s one that had a lot of thought put into it.”
She explained that the PAC chose the structures that they thought would be the most beneficial to the most children, and the students had the final vote.
“Especially right now with COVID, it’s important to have an outdoor space to get everyone together and to get bodies moving,” she said.
“The last couple of years has reaffirmed how critical outdoor participation is for all of us,” she said. “Health professionals have been reinforcing the importance of outdoor activities to help with mental health, and for young people to re-engage with their environment.”
EJ Dunn students and preschoolers alike celebrated the grand opening of both playgrounds on Oct. 26 by singing the school district’s Nuu-chah-nulth celebration song. This was followed by an official ribbon-cutting.