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Forest Lawn gets boost from new, first-of-its-kind fitness park at Jack James High School

Pumping iron has never been easier, or more accessible for residents in Forest Lawn thanks to a new outdoor fitness park at Jack James High School.

Although the grand opening is still months away, the new, first-of-its-kind park installed in September is seeing heavy use by students and the community thanks to its easily accessible location and professional-grade equipment.

The genesis for the project came about as a way to address a lack of resources in the community surrounding the high school, which were further exasperated by the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Our basketball court gets used so much, we thought about how we can create this inclusive courtyard space that invites people to come here and be part of our bigger community,” said Jennifer Gorkoff, Jack James High School Principal.

“It took a lot of a lot of research to find out what would be great for our community, what would be good for our kids, and what would draw people to come here.”

The park features a variety of fitness equipment stations from Greenfields Outdoor Fitness’ professional series, which has variable resistance allowing for workouts similar to what users would get indoors at a gym. Users can do workouts like bench press, leg lifts, biceps curls, and more.

That variable resistance is a feature not commonly seen at other Calgary outdoor fitness parks and was something chosen after extensive research by Gorkoff and Jack James High School athletic director and Phys Ed teacher Tony Allen.

“I’ve been to [other] parks, and they’ve got some cool ones but no resistance. So, this one’s way better in my opinion. I just love it here,” said Grade 12 student Dhiren Chaudhari.

“Other ones in other parks, they’re weak compared to these ones, so I really appreciate these ones.

“When they built this, it was really fun because I could come after school and just work out, and at night. And then it was really fun. Because he had a lot of resistance.”

Jack James High School students use the new outdoor fitness park equipment pieces at the school in Calgary on Tuesday, January 10, 2023. The park is a first of it’s kind for Calgary schools. ARYN TOOMBS / FOR LIVEWIRE CALGARY

Big draw for community

The park is free to use, even during the daytime, with Allen joking that “I think we almost do need to have a sign saying ‘no, please come on in.'”

Community members have embraced the use of the park. Allen said that’s included parents with large families, to even a blind man being helped by his wife to use the equipment.

“She’s going ‘okay, step, step, step, go to the next one.’ I was floored. It was unreal,” Allen said.

Students have also said that they’ve appreciated having people from outside of the school able to use the park alongside them.

“When we came back from winter break yesterday, we saw that nobody’s cleared the snow, and our horticulture students came and cleared this. They shovelled it all, plus a pathway to give access to our community,” said Gorkoff.

It has even proved to be popular with the school staff, and their families.

“We needed to do an outing, and my son hates walking, so I was like ‘alright, well let’s just go here. Plus, there’s a disc golf course over here.’ They got some exercise and when we left they were like oh this is pretty neat,” said Chad Campbell, media tech and outdoor education teacher at Jack James High School.

“They don’t get to see a lot of that stuff around their schools, so they were really excited about all the equipment and my son had to try every single one and make sure he got his workout in.”

The park has been regularly filled past 5 p.m. during the week, even during winter. It’s something that Gorkoff said really helps the students who frequently don’t want to go home after school, and even students from other neighbouring schools.

“So to see even students we don’t know—we know they’re coming from other schools coming here to use this, riding their bikes here—that’s purposeful. They’re coming here,” Gorkoff said.

Jack James High School students use the new outdoor fitness park equipment pieces at the school in Calgary on Tuesday, January 10, 2023. The park is a first of it’s kind for Calgary schools. ARYN TOOMBS / FOR LIVEWIRE CALGARY

Less than the cost of a playground

The park cost approximately $120,000 and was funded by the Government of Alberta, Parks Foundation Calgary, Education Matters, community members, and Chirp Foods founder and Calgary Surge co-owner Usman Jutt.

A typical small community playground begins at about $135,000 to purchase and install.

“Usman (Jutt) has been remarkable. Our kids got to go to the launch for Calgary Surge basketball team, and saw how important it is to fund some schools because we often get in this neighbourhood, ‘ooh, Forest Lawn,'” she said.

“We don’t really get much, and that’s one of the barriers or the walls we have to overcome.

“This has never been done in high school here in Calgary. So, we worked on how do we make this work, and how do we tap resources that aren’t already being tapped pretty heavily.”

Students pitched in by installing the equipment, which involved drilling holes into the concrete pad, offloading the equipment when it was delivered, and putting it all together. None of that work was done for class credit, but rather because they wanted to be a part of creating something for themselves and others.

Gorkoff and Allen both called the creation of the outdoor fitness park a successful model that other schools in Calgary could implement.

“Hopefully we paved the way for other schools by saying that we’ve worked with a company who has been fantastic, we understand the costs associated and the steps you need to take—we’ve done that work, so hopefully that opens it up,” she said.