Both children and adults are enjoying a new playground which has opened at the Ditidaht Community School.
“It’s something the students have wanted for a long time,” said Emily MacLennan, the principal of the school located on Nitinaht Lake. “For years I’ve been trying to get funding for this project.”
Students started fundraising for a new playground a half dozen years ago, when MacLennan arrived at the school to serve as a teacher for those in Kindergarten through Grade 2.
Fundraising efforts included various bottle drives and also selling coffee at the school to various community members.
The amount the students raised over the years, however, would only be a small percentage of what was actually required to construct a new playground.
Hopes that the playground would one day become reality were boosted once MacLennan, who is now in her third year as the principal at the Ditidaht school, managed to get the approval of Ditidaht’s chief and council to provide enough funding from the First Nation to cover about half of the costs.
Then, last fall, MacLennan wrote to an organization, which prefers to remain anonymous, asking whether it would provide the remainder of the funds to construct the playground.
“I didn’t expect to hear back,” said MacLennan, who did not want to disclose the cost of the new playground.
She added she received confirmation this past January that sufficient funding had been secured to proceed with the playground.
Habitat Systems Inc., which supplies playground equipment throughout western Canada and has an office in Victoria, was then hired as the designer.
But MacLennan said it was students from her school that had quite a bit of say in what the playground looked like.
“Every student had the opportunity to contribute to the planning process,” she said. “The majority of them did.”
MacLennan said students were asked what structures they wanted to see in the playground and many drew pictures of what they wanted those to look like.
Students also chose the colours – teal, blue and green – of the various structures.
“Most of the students wanted to see some swings and slides,” MacLennan said. “And multiple students requested a zipline.”
Though it’s believed very few school playgrounds actually have a zipline, MacLennan did not dismiss that idea.
“I thought anything is possible,” she said.
The school did have an old playground which had been built in 2004.
“It was outdated,” MacLennan said, explaining why a new one was needed.
As it turns out, it’s not just students who have been taking turns on various features of the playground, which had an opening ceremony on Aug. 30.
Besides the zipline, which is about 50 metres long, the playground includes various climbing structures, swings and a unique contraption called a Crab Trap, which features ropes and netting that individuals can climb on and crawl through.
“Apparently there is only a handful of them in the country,” MacLennan said of the feature.
Ditidaht Community School currently has 55 students, from Kindergarten to Grade 12.
Though the academic year was scheduled to begin on Sept. 7, MacLennan said the school had become a popular spot in the community since the playground’s opening.
The new playground was built over five weeks throughout July and August.
“It’s nice to see students together playing outside,” MacLennan said. “It’s nice to have something in the community where kids can have somewhere to play and hang out and socialize.”
Sarah Tom, whose son Brayden is a Grade 5 student at the school, is one of the adults who has been enjoying various playground features herself.
Tom was one of the many parents from the community who attended various informational sessions on the playground.
“It’s huge and it’s awesome,” Tom said of the playground. “It’s a huge wow factor in my eyes.”
Tom is glad to see the new playground has become a popular spot in the community.
“Normally we would only see about two to five kids in the playground,” she said, adding most times of the day there are now considerably more taking advantage of the new structures.
Tom added she’s become a huge fan of the zipline.
“I had children laughing at me,” Tom said of when she first tried the zipline. “But I’ve seen a handful of other adults on there as well. You’ve got to take turns with the kids.”
Tom is also rather fond of the Crab Trap.
“It’s really unique,” she said. “And it’s pretty sweet.”