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.