Hidden Valley is on track to complete the second in a series of four public and school playground improvements.
The community is set to open their Hidden Hills playground in early June. This follows the successful completion of the Hidden Hut playground, which was installed in September of last year.
Currently in the fundraising phases are a playgrounds at the Hidden Valley dual track English and French immersion K-3 school, and at the community’s beloved Duck Pond.
All of which has been largely spearheaded by Sarah Parchewsky, who serves as the park spaces director for the Hidden Valley Community Association, and the chair for the Hidden Valley School Council.
“It’s very important, especially since the pandemic, because everybody wanted to get outside, but nobody wants to go and spend their time in a park space that is worn down or potentially unsafe,” she said.
“It’s completely rejuvenated our community. The more we revitalize, the more rejuvenation is happening in our community.”
So far the community at large has raised well over a quarter million dollars to cover the projects.
Ward 3 Councillor Jasmine Mian said she was incredibly supportive of the ongoing playground projects.
“I think it’s a huge success to have a new accessible playground at the Hidden Hut, and then the one opening at Hidden Hills,” she said.
Active fundraising ongoing for projects
The City of Calgary rebuilt the Hidden Hut playground as part of city-wide funding for 11 all-inclusive locations. The community was selected in part because of the extensive project planning and documentation that was created as part of Hidden Valley’s strategic park plan.
The community was able to fundraise an additional $211,810 for the Hidden Hills playground through bottle drives, bake sales, food truck events, and grant funding.
Currently, they’ve raised $16,500 for the $194,000 Duck Pond project.
The HVCA is hosting a YYC Food Truck event on June 6, with 10 per cent of all proceeds going towards the Duck Pond project. They are also holding a bottle drive on July 9.
Both of those events will be held at the Valley Creek School parking lot.
And the school parent council has raised over $110,000 for the Hidden Valley School playground, or about 32 per cent of the total $370,000 price tag.
The school council just completed an $11,000 50/50 raffle, and is currently in the planning stages for a silent auction to be held in the fall.
Both of the playgrounds currently being fundraised for are using the Calgary Parks Foundation. This allows anyone making a donation to either project to receive a charitable tax credit.
For the full schedule of community fundraising events, see www.h2spaces.org.
Volunteers needed to translate fundraising dollars into action
So far, Parchewsky said that she has been very fortunate to have a pair of passionate community members volunteer with her to move these playground projects ahead.
“To me, if someone is passionate enough, then you can get this done. You can do anything you want as long because you are determined to do it,” she said.
However, Parchewsky said that the community association itself has been struggling to find sufficient volunteers. It was something that started before the pandemic, she said.
Although the Hidden Valley School playground is not at risk, the Duck Pond project could be. It’s a situation that’s almost the opposite of many other Calgary communities that have volunteers but lack fundraising dollars.
“Our AGM is coming up in June, and if there’s not enough people willing to volunteer for the board, then the HVCA is probably going to close their doors,” she said.
Without the HVCA, the Duck Pond, and the potential to revitalize a further 10 playgrounds in the future becomes a lot harder, said Parchewsky.
“You know, people want to see all these good things happen, but these things won’t happen—most of them will not happen – without your community association.”
The City of Calgary said that in the event of a community association dissolving, voluntarily or otherwise, the community association’s park spaces would be returned to the city to be cared for.
“I think the pandemic has cast a really long shadow, and we’re seeing a lot of our community associations struggling a little bit. But I have confidence at between the city and our office, we can provide support to the community association, and help ensure that the project will move ahead,” said Coun. Mian.
“What that actually looks like, I couldn’t I couldn’t say at this point because these are sort of hypotheticals, but we definitely want to ensure that the work that the community has put in to advancing these initiatives is something that we can continue.”
Swinging into action, to see kids on slides
Parchewsky said that even just showing up to listen so that the board could make quorum would be of incredible help.
“If we don’t have enough people to make quorum, then we can’t make decisions, we can’t make progress, and we can’t release funds,” she said.
What that would look like, practically, is enough volunteers doing two hours a month, simply being present at a meeting.
Coun. Mian said that Calgarians don’t always make that connection to their local community.
“It’s interesting, because when I was door-knocking I heard so much from residents about wanting to have the types of investments, wanting to see community events, and these kinds of things, and that’s exactly what community associations are all about,” she said.
“To the residents of Hidden Valley in particular, please do reach out to the HVCA and get involved in the ways that you can. It’s one of the best ways to see tangible improvements in your community.”
Duck Pond playground currently at community engagement stage
The Duck Pond project is well underway, with the HCVA committee currently evaluating RFPs.
Parchewsky said they knew this project would require more community engagement to get done.
One of the challenges was the state of the playground equipment, which the association had the city remove for safety about a year ago.
She said that the HVCA was warned that this might cause a negative reaction. Parchewsky said the removal of the equipment and installation of temporary picnic tables has worked.
“People can still go and enjoy this park space, even still picnic there, look at the pond, walk around the pond, but there’s not going to be any play equipment. And it actually worked in terms of getting community engagement,” she said.
Almost equally among options, community members asked for better play structure equipment, benches with shaded areas for rest, and improved connectivity to walking paths. The most asked for items were swings at 40 per cent, and climbing activities at 39 per cent.
Overall residents have asked for either a nature theme at 46 per cent, or water theme at 42 per cent for the playground.
“It’s a matter of time of selecting the vendor, and just moving forward,” said Parchewsky.
Hidden Valley School project to impact many surrounding communities
At issue for the Hidden Valley School playground is the age of the equipment and continued safety for children playing. Currently, the rubber tiles used to cushion falls have begun tearing, leading to an increased trip hazard.
“On top of that, the vendor, the playground vendor, is not even in business anymore,” said Parchewsky.
This also means that they have been unable to replace parts that have been wearing down from more than two decades of use.
The playground is regularly used by the Calgary Board of Education’s 400 staff and students at the school, and over 700 children from surrounding areas outside of school hours.
The parent council is working towards raising 50 per cent of the funding for 2023. The remainder of the funding would be made up of grants. There is a bit of a race on however, as the school is aware that there is a limited shelf life left on the equipment.
Parchewsky explained that every year the playground has to be certified as being safe for use. With the lack of replacement parts, and general wear-and-tear, this put a bit of a fire under the parent council to begin looking to replace the playground.
“Because if we don’t, and the CBE comes in to do an inspection, and it doesn’t pass inspection, then all of the playground equipment gets removed and the kids have nowhere to play,” she said.
Playground replacements are not funded by the CBE.
“This is where the process is a little bit different, compared with a school council versus a municipal park space, in that the RFP process solely lies on his school council.”
Creating an accessible playground for all children
Parchewsky said that they’ve been lucky to have the support of the wider community to move the fundraising process along, given the small size of the school.
“We’ve been able to reach our greater community to be like, ‘we need your help, Because we know that your kids use this space outside of school hours,'” she said.
What the council has planned is a playground that will meet the needs of the current student body, and students with accessibility issues that may attend in the future.
“The biggest part of this playground, which is exciting to me, is that it’s going to be an inclusive playground because we have students at the school have all different abilities,” said Parchewsky.
“Right now, we don’t have a student who is in a wheelchair, or we don’t have a student who is seeing impaired right now, but it doesn’t mean that we’re not going to in the future,” she said.
The rubber tiles will be replaced with a pour-in-place rubber surface. There will also be ramps instead of stairs leading to the slides. And throughout the playground, there will be individual activity stations that cater to a wide variety of skills and abilities.
“That’s what’s special about this playground, and not a lot of schools—unless you’re a new school and you’ve never had a playground—can you be like ‘OK, let’s build an inclusive playground.'”