Tree chipping integral to new playground in Maple Ridge

Fundraising for phase two of a Harry Hooge Elementary playground begins Jan. 2.

It takes a village to raise a child – and likewise to raise a playground for said child to frolic in – or so it would seem.

It took a team of more than 20 Harry Hooge parents eight hours to erect a new playground at the 230th Street elementary school on a Saturday in early December.

But, the project actually took years of planning and fundraising, and literally hundreds of volunteer hours by hundreds of people, to transform from a dream to a reality.

It is a project that first took root some five years ago, and is still expected to take another three or four years to fully complete, explained Natalie McConkey, vice-president of the Harry Hooge Elementary parent advisory council (PAC).

“I went to the first PAC meeting in 2012 when my son [Roman, now eight and in Grade 3] started kindergarten, just to see what it was about. But I wasn’t going to get involved with anything. I left that meeting as chair of the playground replacement committee – lol,” McConkey told The TIMES.

“I couldn’t stand the idea of the kids not having a place to play,” she added.

There were some funds put aside for this project five years ago, knowing the existing playground would need to be replaced.

But the PAC didn’t start seriously planning and fundraising until fall 2012, when McConkey took the helm.

“[The previous playground] was more than 20 to 25 years old, made of wood, and completely rotten,” she explained. “Parts have been removed from it over the last several years for safety reasons.”

The school district demolished and removed the last of the old playground in January, and kids have been anxiously waiting for the replacement, McConkey said.

While the hope was to have a new playground in place more than a year ago, it took longer than expected to raise all the money. And, McConkey explained, the longer it took to fundraiser, the higher the costs for the project climbed.

When all was said and done, this playground cost $52,000, and that’s only the first phase, McConkey added.

Parents have been actively fundraising for the past three years, and will be keeping it up.

“We had to get creative, as our standard fundraisers already fund other school items such as field trips, speakers, and technology,” McConkey explained.

“We had to come up with new ideas.”

The two most successful have been the school’s Christmas tree chipping held every January by Urban Lumberjack Tree Services, as well as a school carnival – which is being morphed this year into a February Winter Wonderland. McConkey hopes it will become an annual festival, and a destination event for the community.

Admittedly, the project has taken much longer than anticipated, but the “kids seem very excited” with the results, thus far.

Now, work begins almost immediately, preparing for phase two of the playground.

This includes a massive netting system that the children can climb on, as well as extension of the play area to include the existing swings inside a wooden border that is completely inlayed with the same engineered wood fibre used for phase one.

The second phase is expected to cost another $46,000, and McConkey said fundraising begins Jan. 2 and 3, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., with the annual tree chipping at the school. Chipping is by donation. Last year, they raised almost $2,000 and hope to top that total this year.

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