North Otter Elementary students are in for a treat when they arrive for their first day of school Sept. 8.
North Otter’s Parent Advisory Council partnered with both the school and outside communities to fundraise for, and assemble, brand-new playground equipment that will be ready for climbing, swinging, and sliding, just in time for back to school.
School principal Dianne Chretien said a determined fundraising effort by “a very motivated group of parents” generated the $83,000 needed to make the dream of two new playgrounds at the school a reality.
Weathering heavy rain (for the first couple of hours) followed by gale-force winds blowing in their faces on Saturday, Aug. 29, students’ dads, moms, grandparents, uncles, aunts, and a host of community volunteers, including six Langley Township firefighters, put together the playground structures.
Some of the features include an 18-foot zip line, ladders, vertical climbers, and a climbing wall for the six- to 12-year-old children’s playground behind the school.
For the playground designed for kids five and under, a slide, small climbing wall, and a ladder was put together. Both playgrounds are wheelchair accessible, and suitable for all ages and abilities.
Artificial bark mulch is being used for the playgrounds’ surfaces.
The need for a new playground at the school goes back to the summer of 2014, when a key piece of the playground behind the school grounds was vandalized.
“We had a wooden platform on our old structure, and that was lifted,” explained North Otter Elementary PAC president Natalie Franklin, mom to Kerington (Grade 2) and Taelyn (pre-school). “Someone came in and must have used a crowbar and lifted it up. It was a hazard.”
That, along with general wear-and-tear, forced the school district to close the playground from September to November, 2014.
After the platform was repaired in December, the students were able to use the playground again.
“But we knew that it was just a band-aid, and we needed to fundraise hard,” Franklin said.
As a result, North Otter’s school community put together a playground team, which faced a formidable task: the price tag for a brand new playground can range anywhere between $60,000 and $120,000.
After deciding on a company, Burnaby-based Habitat Systems, to provide the equipment, the team set a date for the structures to be completed.
“We didn’t want this to take four or five years to do,” Franklin said.“We can’t let this go two or three years. We have a small school and that well of donations from our parents is going to dry up pretty fast. They wanted just one, hard go at it.”
June 5 was chosen as the deadline. “Whatever we had raised, come June 5, whether it be $20,000 or the $83,000, we’ll build the best darn playground we can with whatever we have,” Franklin said.
A $5,000 donation from JD Farms, a turkey farm owned by Langley Township Mayor Jack Froese, gave the group optimism.
“When I saw that I thought, ‘Wow, this could actually happen, we can do this,’” Franklin related.
Froese has close ties to North Otter Elementary.
His three children went to the school all the way through to Grade 7 and now his two grandchildren, Jackson and Isaiah, attend North Otter.
“All our kids went through here,” Froese said. “It’s a great school, and our grandkids are coming here. I told my son, Jason, who is running the farm, that we need to donate to this. It was important.”
On-Line Collision, which started its playground initiative in 2013 and helped fund Alex Hope Elementary when it needed a new playground structure, was also a big contributor.
Also lending support were Rotarians from the Aldergrove, Langley, and Langley Central clubs. Rotarians helping out on Saturday included Calla Krause, Elizabeth Backman, Alex Blackburn, Rodney Blackwell, Mike Brown, Susan Parsons, Sandy Dunkley, and Steve Oliver.
Aldergrove Rotary along with Langley Central Rotary donated funds towards the project.
One local family which lost their son, 12-year-old Coleton Nelson to a car accident on Feb. 18, 2011, donated money into the cause, as well. Coleton was a former North Otter student and his mom Brenda said the family wanted to allocate funds raised in Coleton’s memory to the playground.
As a thank you to the Nelson family, a memorial bench for Coleton was installed on the North Otter school grounds.
During a playground and ribbon cutting ceremony on Sept. 25, a plaque will be presented to the family.
Franklin stressed that the two playground structures aren’t for the sole use of the students, but for the entire neighbourhood, as well.
“This is our community playground, now,” she said. “Salmon River doesn’t have a playground.”
She added that having playground equipment that is either old or needs replacing is an “epidemic for all school districts.”