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Parents make the final push for new St. Alphonsus school playground

An old, northeast Calgary Catholic school playground is looking for a rebirth and the school’s parent group is hoping the community can help them reach the final goal.

Parent volunteers with the St. Alphonsus School Playground Society have been working for years to cobble together the resources to replace the school’s aging playground.

The school, located in Renfrew, is home to 457 students from K to 9. There are also two special needs programs for children with cognitive, physical and behavioral disabilities, with several students requiring wheelchairs.

The current school playground structure was built in 1998. It’s scheduled for demolition in 2024.

Brittany Matthews is one of the parent volunteers spearheading the effort. She said there are roughly 20 students at the school requiring wheelchairs. Those kids aren’t able to play at the current structure. The number one goal was to make the playground inclusive.

“I’ve seen, living close to the school, driving by and all the kids in the wheelchairs are outside of the playground watching because currently our playground has the rock, pebble design right now,” she said.

“The kids just watch other kids play on the playground and it’s just heartbreaking that they are not able to partake and play on different aspects of the playground.”

They’re working with Calgary-area company Park N Play Design on a new playground. The design is fully wheelchair accessible – not only around the structure but on the different platforms, said Matthews. Even the interactive elements are at wheelchair height.

The rising cost of school playgrounds

The projected cost of the new playground is $300,000.

Right now, the group has raised roughly $50,000 on its own. A generous grant from Calgary’s Allardyce Bower Foundation ($194,000) has put them within $50,000 of their goal.

It’s been a challenge to fundraise over the past three years due to Covid-19, Matthews said. They applied for several grants over the past two years with no luck. In that time, it’s shown the importance of getting out to play.

“It’s been so important to have kids be able to go to school and escape the reality of what’s going on in the world and just be kids,” she said.

They’re hoping to qualify for a Parks Foundation Calgary grant, and perhaps a Government of Alberta grant to build healthy communities.

They’ve also scheduled a pub night and silent auction fundraiser. The online auction starts April 18, and the pub night at Toto Pizza in Bridgeland is on April 26. Matthews said even if you aren’t able to attend the pub night, people can bid on the auction items (including a Nintendo Switch, a Galaxy tablet and a signed Calgary Stampeders jersey).

If they can reach their fundraising target it could speed up the construction process – maybe even to this year. Matthews said the location of the new playground would be in a different area, allowing them to build once the funding is secure.

And the thought of seeing a finished playground after several years of work?

“I would be speechless,” Matthews said.

“It would just be unbelievable to see the joy, and the kids’ eyes when they return to school a see a new playground would bring tears to my eyes. It would be amazing.”