Playground Build Assistance

Playground Build Assistance

So, you wanna build a playground, eh?

Seems pretty simple – browse the manufacturers’ colourful equipment brochures, pick out a few slides, swings and climbers. Hit add to cart. Easy peasy!

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Edmonton Catholic Schools supports parent groups with new playground build projects like this one at Father Leo Green Catholic School. Photo by Edmonton Playgrounds.

But wait. The current cost for an “average” playground in 2022 is about $250,000. A quarter of a million dollars. That won’t build the biggest school playground around, nor the smallest, but it’s enough to create a serviceable playground that children can enjoy for about 20 years.

So how can even the most enthusiastic group of parents scrounge up that princely sum? Simply put, you can’t “bake sale” your way to a new playground. There are grants for which to apply. Some fundraisers are more successful than others. There are community partners who generously step in with donations and gifts-in-kind.

More than meets the eye

There’s also planning. When you look at a playground, you may just see swings and slides. Kids having fun. But there’s a lot more that goes into the selection of the equipment than you may think.

First – inclusion. Edmonton Catholic Schools is a leader in this field. They are actively working to ensure that every one of their school playgrounds is accessible, inclusive and safe by 2030. (Spoiler alert – they’re about 6 years ahead of pace on their goal!) Inclusive playgrounds offer everything from improving access to the sites, with paved tarmacs from the school door to the fun stuff; base materials like rubber and turf; ramped structures and communication tools, like “Say and Play” boards at every school. Playgrounds must also include equipment for each of the seven elements of play. These are Spinning, Swinging, Sliding, Balancing, Climbing, Brachiating (upper body), and Sensory Development.

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The Edmonton Catholic School Division is committed to building inclusive playgrounds like this one at St. Richard Catholic Elementary School. Playgrounds include paved tarmacs for access and “Say and Play” communication boards. 

Where to begin?

Once the equipment is chosen, where is it purchased? How is it delivered? Who schedules the build? Who secures the site? How is it inspected for safety?

The entire process seems completely overwhelming. Where does one begin?

Edmonton Catholic Schools has decided to take the guesswork, trial-and-error, and frankly, a lot of the frustration, out of the playground planning process. They’ve created a how-to guide to help parent groups get started on the journey to a new playground.

It starts with Planning Manager Doris Paquette, Edmonton Catholic Schools’ resident playground expert. She connects with playground grant guru Kim Street, from KJ Street Consulting, and the two meet with parent groups at the beginning of the process to walk them through the process of a playground build. The duo can also advise on fundraising options, and answer questions along the way.

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The inclusive playground at St. Alphonsus Catholic Elementary School is a project that was close to the heart of Kim Street. Kim runs KJ Street Consulting, which offers playgrounds build assistance in the form of grant writing.

Taking the mystery out of grant applications

Grant applications are a huge part of the equation, but also a piece that is nearly impossible to navigate for a rookie. Kim knows the grant world inside out, and she and her team will help parent groups apply for each and every grant that could possibly benefit a project. Kim works almost exclusively with Edmonton Catholic Schools. She says she’s indebted to Edmonton Catholic Schools because of the support and care she and her 3 children received. Each of Kim’s kids has medical challenges, and she says the school division was there for her in her darkest days. She and her husband also volunteer a lot of their time to support Edmonton Catholic Schools and the many playground projects in which they have a hand. 

While grants play a big role, the importance of fundraising can’t be overlooked. Grants will rarely be approved without an indication that funds are also being raised for the project. Doris and Kim have seen it all, and can advise groups on fundraisers that work, and those that don’t pay off. They also empower parents from other schools who’ve been through the process to share their experiences with groups getting started.

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The Edmonton Catholic School Division is leading the way when it comes to offering playground build assistance to parent groups. Pictured is the inclusive playground at St. Philip Catholic Elementary School.

The core belief

It’s not common for a school division to be so heavily invested in their playgrounds, but Edmonton Catholic Schools holds firm to the belief that every child has a right to play, and they’ve chosen to take an active role in offering playground build assistance. They want to make sure that play is safe, accessible and inclusive at every one of their schools. As their holistic approach to education includes a spiritual component, so too does it include this vital physical component.

Editor’s note: I wrote this article as a paid partnership with Edmonton Catholic Schools. I thank Edmonton Catholic Schools for trusting me to tell this story.

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