Playground equipment to be removed from schools

Monkey bars will soon be a thing of the past at local public elementary schools.

Jungle gyms across Windsor-Essex are slated for deconstruction and removal.

Public schools are phasing out traditional playgrounds, with their slides and monkey bars. They will be replaced with "naturalized playgrounds" which include large hills, walking paths and grass mazes.

The Greater Essex County District School Board closed half its play structures to students this year.

Safety concerns about older, rusting playground equipment are a major reason for the decision.

All seven structures at Anderdon public elementary school are off limits, surrounded by orange mesh fencing. Only one will be refurbished. The other six will be removed.

Anderdon is moving to a naturalized playground, at a cost of $200,000 for the first phase.

Kerry Green-Duren, the acting principal, said "everyone is geeked" about the new playground.

"The playground equipment's nice, and it's great. The kids have fun with that, and we'll leave that to the community parks, and they can do that on Saturdays and Sundays," Green-Duren said. "But for us, we wanted to include more students in play, so students with disabilities."

The school has made a promotional video in an effort to obtain a grant to help offset the cost of the new naturalized playground.

But a member of the school's parent council is frustrated with the decision.

"The school board has a duty to make sure kids are safe, and we accept that and we understand that. But that's where their obligation seems to end," said Jasminka Kalajdzic. "They take no responsibility for ensuring that there are enough funds to maintain the equipment properly, as far as we understand. And they certainly don't have money in the budget to replace equipment that's been condemned."

Replacing one of the climbing structures would cost approximately $50,000. It also costs thousands of dollars each year to replenish the ground materials that surround the equipment at schools.

The public school board wants to discontinue using traditional play equipment, in favour of the naturalized play areas.

One of these is partially completed at Dr. David Suzuki Public School in Windsor. It has a large hill and walking paths. More features will be added.

Suzuki's principal says when it's completed, the naturalized area will cost at least $500,000.

"It's viable for any school to do this," Judy Wherry said. "You do need the money to support it, but there are a lot of grants out there that you can apply for."

Wherry said natural playgrounds are less expensive to maintain and can remain open year round, unlike play structures, which are closed during winter for safety reasons.

Wherry also sees them as more accessible because more kids can use them at one time.

Sometime in the next two weeks, the Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board will table a report on what it should do about outdated and unsafe equipment at its elementary schools.