Volunteer Playground Build – St Teresa of Calcutta
“Grounders!” yells one child. Instantly a small gaggle of children tear across the playground, each hopping onto the closest piece of equipment. In the background parents are standing and chatting; sitting in the shade of the old gazebo; one is shooting hoops. In the field beyond the playground, small groups are sitting in the grass enjoying the warmth of a summer evening.
This is the playground at St. Teresa of Calcutta Catholic Elementary School. It’s easy to see that the bright and cheery new playspace is already a hub of the community.
St. Teresa of Calcutta Catholic Elementary School is located in the Boyle Street neighbourhood. The school has only a small parent council – a group that doesn’t have the means to tackle a project like playground replacement. So how did this inner city school get a bright shiny new playground in 2022?
Enter Edmonton Catholic Schools. Playgrounds are a priority for this school division – so much so that the organization has set a goal of making every one of the 43 division-owned elementary school playgrounds safe, inclusive and accessible by 2030. Rebuilds have been happening at a remarkable pace of about 6 per year for the last several years. Among those are three notable projects – St. Teresa of Calcutta, St. Francis of Assisi, and St. Alphonsus – the Volunteer Builds.
A typical playground build can take weeks, or even months, of construction to complete. Edmonton Catholic Schools Volunteer Builds last 3 days. Three. Days. It’s an absolutely unprecedented effort – and amazingly, the build itself is just the cherry on top. The work begins months, and even years before the shovels hit the ground.
Without a parent council to undertake the massive fundraising effort required to build a playground, Edmonton Catholic Schools steps in and cracks open their little black book. Planning Manager Doris Paquette (the ECSD Guru of all things playground-related), and Kim Street, of KJ Street Consulting, (which is contracted by Edmonton Catholic to support parent groups with playground grant applications) team up and leave no stone unturned to raise funds and secure gifts-in-kind in order to get a playground project off the ground. They rave about the support they’ve received from groups including Playquest Recreation, which not only offers a discount on the equipment but also supplies a crew to lead the volunteer builds; as well as GPI Master of Play, which has supported ECSD volunteer builds by offering discounts on surfacing.
Purchasing new equipment is just one piece of the puzzle. Also up for consideration is the deconstruction of the old playground, the removal and recycling or disposal of sand and dirt, fencing for the site, security, and of course food to feed volunteers. Kim refers to herself as “old school” and says she still digs out her Yellow Pages. She will cold call companies until she finds one willing to donate what they can to support the project.
The build is scheduled with military precision – it has to be in order to meet the day 3 deadline. The skies opened during the first day of work at St. Teresa of Calcutta, but driving rain didn’t drive away the volunteers.
St. Teresa’s build was supported by an incredible group of U of A engineers, engineering students and alumni. Quite simply put, a construction project couldn’t possibly have been in better hands!
After 3 days, the bright and colourful new swings, slides, and climber were in place. Details, like ground cover, safety inspections and landscaping would follow. For now, the fenced project stood as a bright reminder of hope on the horizon for the community.
The months (and sometimes years) of behind-the-scenes work that goes into a volunteer playground build means that Edmonton Catholic Schools is only able to undertake one of these projects every year or two – all while still supporting other, parent-led fundraising efforts. When asked why the district takes on rebuild projects in this manner, Doris Paquette said simply “Because we believe that just as every child deserves the right to a quality education, every child deserves to play in a safe, inclusive space.”
It’s an effort that spreads beyond the school children – and means a safe, inclusive space for kids and families in the neighbourhoods, and the entire city, to enjoy.
There’s a beautiful footnote to this story. The Volunteer Playground Build project earned Edmonton Catholic Schools a ChooseWell Healthy Communities Award. The awards recognize efforts to promote healthy lifestyles and active living in Alberta. The St. Teresa of Calcutta Volunteer playground Build project was up against community initiatives in municipalities all over the province. The awards will be presented in March 2023.
Check out the Edmonton Playgrounds review of the playground at St Teresa of Calcutta School HERE!
Editor’s note: I wrote this article as a paid partnership with Edmonton Catholic Schools. It was a privilege for me to witness the volunteer playground build process from start to finish. I thank Edmonton Catholic Schools for trusting me to tell this story.