Parent wants bigger yard for French school

Andrew Robinson
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Says size of play area limits physical activity for students

Some parents with children attending École des Grands-Vents are concerned that this outdoor play area is too small to accommodate students.
— Photo by Rhonda Hayward/The Telegram

Philippe Denis says children attending the province’s largest French-language school do not have an adequately sized outdoor play area.

Denis, who has two young children attending École des Grands-Vents in St. John’s, has been campaigning for an arrangement that will allow students at the school to roam more freely.

“From the very first day I went to that school, I noticed that there was nothing for the kids to play with outside, and I found this to be really disappointing,” said Denis, who has been living in St. John’s with his family for two years.

According to Denis, his concerns are shared by other parents.

“I’ve talked to everyone I could, and you wouldn’t believe how many people just encourage me to go further and further, because a lot of people have tried to do what I’m doing now, but they all hit a roadblock somewhere.”

At issue is an area that is approximately 15 metres by 60 metres located behind the school that has served as its play area for students. Its size was reduced further when three sheds were built behind the school.

“For 200 children, that is ridiculous,” Denis said.

Students typically go outside once in the morning and again at lunchtime, if weather permits. Denis said the lack of space has caused fights to break out amongst students. He said students do not have enough space to run around when they are outside, limiting their opportunities to fully benefit from physical activity.

“The more room the kids would have, the more active they would be,” he said.

The play area also has no playground equipment.

The building that houses École des Grands-Vents has several other uses beyond serving as a school. It has a daycare centre and provides office space for groups that include Le Conseil scolaire francophone provincial de Terre-Neuve-et-Labrador (CSFP), the district responsible for the school.

Denis has suggested the parking lot on the east end could be eliminated or reduced in size to allow for more space for students to play outside. He said members of the neighbouring YMCA facility and the nearby Marine Institute currently use it.

Parking space needed

CSFP assistant director of education Peter Smith said those spaces are needed to serve people who use the building. He also appears to be sympathetic to Denis’ concerns.

“I would agree that it’s less than ideal,” he said of the outdoor space available to students to play in. “I would say that there are a lot of schools that have smaller yards than this one, but at the same time I wouldn’t disagree with the parents at all in saying that it’s less than ideal.”

The City of St. John’s also has rules governing how many parking spaces must be provided for different buildings. For schools, there must be one parking space per 30 square metres of classroom area. There are further parking requirements specific to office space (one per 30 square metres of net floor area) and daycares (one parking space, plus one per 30 square metres of school area).

Classroom space at École des Grands-Vents is approximately 600 square metres (including modular classrooms), making 20 parking spaces necessary to serve the school. There are approximately 80 parking spaces on the building’s property.

Smith did not know how many parking spaces the building on Ridge Road is required to have by law, but he said architects responsible for designing it adhered to building codes and that the number of spaces built was not arbitrarily selected. As for solutions to the play area issue, he said they are not easy to identify.

“Short of spending enormous amounts of money to extend our property forward into the woods, no,” he said. “Our plot of land here is only so big, and it’s on a sharp incline, so it’s kind of difficult to (envision) any other arrangement,” he said.

Denis admitted adding backfill to the area beyond the incline behind the school is too costly an option.

Denis has contacted Education Minister Clyde Jackman about the issue. In a lengthy emailed response to Denis in March, Jackman said there are no standards in place concerning the required size of outdoor play areas.

He noted that “every effort is made to provide a sports field, where feasible,” and added a fenced-in play area with equipment is provided for new schools with primary grades.

Jackman said the department will consider the option of expanding the school during the 2014-15 budget process. As for the outdoor play area, the minister said his department is working with the CSFP to “ascertain a suitable solution.”

Smith said he hopes the matter can eventually be solved to the satisfaction of parents.

“We do wish to improve the yard and expand it further east,” he said, suggesting two of the sheds presently behind the school could be moved or scrapped altogether.

Twitter: @TeleAndrew

Organizations: YMCA, Marine Institute

Geographic location: Ridge Road

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Recent comments

  • Rose
    June 08, 2013 - 09:00

    I think this could be said about every elementary school in St. John's. I wish more parents were actively trying to fix the situation. This is why we're reading an article about this school and not ANY other school. The squeaky wheel gets the grease. The parents need to get together, figure out some solutions, and fundraise.

  • Say What?
    June 07, 2013 - 20:01

    Admission to this school is quite restricted, and I quote: Vous souhaitez que votre enfant fréquente l’École des Grands-Vents? Votre demande sera acceptée si vous appartenez au groupe désigné, en terme juridique, comme celui des ayants-droit. Vous en faites partie si vous réunissez une ou plusieurs des conditions suivantes : votre première langue apprise et encore comprise, ou celle de votre conjoint(e) est le français vous avez fait vos études primaires en français au Canada l’un de vos enfants a reçu ou reçoit actuellement son instruction au niveau primaire ou secondaire en français au Canada. My children have been in French immersion for 10 and 12 years respectively and would love to have attended this school, but they don't meet the criteria. I say bully for these parents - they have a lovely new school for their children. Want something more, like a better outdoor play environment for your kids? Do what every other family in this province does - raise the money and do it yourself.

  • Get Your Facts Straight
    June 07, 2013 - 14:00

    VOTER. Please get your facts straight before you make comments like (must be a French-first-language family). My 2 children attend this school and our home is NOT a French-first language family. It drives me crazy here when people make comments without know the facts. Never assume anything, because you know what happens,

  • Michelle
    June 07, 2013 - 13:00

    What a pathetic complaint, perhaps Phillipe should take a walk through Booth and Bishops High schools to see real inadequacies (schools that should have been closed years ago!) Parents in the west end have been begging for a new high school for an eternity, its a real pity their playground is not perfect. Let the French parents fund raise for the playground equipment, much like other schools have to do for computers and smart boards, all the equipment required for teaching!

  • BJK
    June 07, 2013 - 10:28

    wow....we need a lot of things in Education in this province. The French now have their own board and their own school in St Johns and Happy Valley Goose Bay. I work in the school system and feel that we, the English, deserve the same as the French get. However....with a school population in St johns under 50 kids...that's right....a brand new school for 50 kids in the middle of the city.... I hope and pray that they don't get what they want this time. With Pippy Park and the Y along side....I don't think that there is a lack of recreational activities.

  • barron
    June 07, 2013 - 10:06

    Forget the french kids. Next door at cna we need some more parking spaces for parking in the winter.

  • Voter
    June 07, 2013 - 09:53

    Cry me a river! There are plenty of schools in this province, smaller, over crowded, with less than modern facilities who need money for basic services. But, as ever, I'm sure Governments will come through for this school. Never mind that you & I are prevented from sending our children to this school even if we wanted to (must be a French-first-language family); hows that for discrimination/human rights?

  • Shyla
    June 07, 2013 - 08:45

    I'm sure the government will give them whatever they want. Stay tuned for their new and improved play area after the government backfills the steep hill at the back. The only PUBLICLY funded school that can discriminate on admission (you must have french parents or family roots to attend). They also offer ALL DAY kindergarten while the rest of the provinces public schools don't. Then the cheapest after school care possible (funded by government???). What other perks do we not know about?? From the picture I can see grass, and a road that looks great for running up and down. Instead of caging them in, set those kids free! Set up pylons or barriers to the roads so that vehicles can't enter during kids playtime. The school I know has a large field (no fence) for the grades 4-6 and a fenced (but not caged against the building) playground for K-3. They also frequently play on the roads, on the bit of grass, and in the woods around the school building where there are NO FENCES (gasp).

  • Stand in line
    June 07, 2013 - 08:25

    My kids have attended a very old elementary school in St. John's for the past number of years and played on a parking lot as their 'outdoor space'. The school, along with the support of the parents are raising the funds to make it a more suitable play area with more/better equipment. The parents and administration of the French school might consider doing the same.

  • Shifts??
    June 07, 2013 - 08:18

    200 kids?? Do 2 shifts, 100 kids each. I doubt if outside time is more than 30 minutes but whatever it is, do it in 2 shifts, or 3 if necessary. My school playground was a parking lot. I don't remember fights because the teachers were out with us. Govt will study this to death, waste of time and money.

  • Joey
    June 07, 2013 - 07:47

    You could provide a positive example for the students - and instead of discussing how to bulldoze, infill, and further destroy the surrounding park, design a play area that is incorporated into the natural landscape. Children should be permitted to run up and down and play on hills, to touch trees, and engage with the natural world. Playgrounds should not be artificial flat spaces surrounded by chain-link fences. You build a school in the middle of a park, but you can't find space to play in? How ridiculous. Tear down the fence, hire enough staff to supervise properly, and engage with the park as a part of the school.

  • Poor planning
    June 07, 2013 - 07:23

    Who in their right minds builds a school without adequate play facilities? Oooh right, pretty much every school in St. John's.