Ribbon cutting for new CJA playground
Friday, 09 September 2011 21:09

By Richard Bronstein

The Jewish Free Press

Wednesday, August 31 was rainy and cold; the exact kind of day not to dedicate a new playground, but school kids, staff, parents and dignitaries put on their best outdoor gear and carried on with great enthusiasm.

And what is there not to be enthusiastic about when two years of effort comes to fruition and you can proudly point to a spanking new 7,000 square foot playground that is the latest in design and function.

Mercifully, the speeches were moved inside the gym at the Calgary Jewish Academy where the school’s leader, Ben Karmel welcomed the eager crowd of kids and adults.

Principal Karmel chose the theme of “v’dor l’dor” to remind everyone that the new playground “is a tangible expression of Calgary Jewish Academy’s vision of today and of the future,” as he warmly thanked “the dogged persistence of the small army of parents, staff and volunteers who made it all possible.”

Mayor Naheed Nenshi reflected a similar theme when he remarked that the playground is of benefit to not only the school population, but also the entire local neighbourhood for years to come. He said such developments, and others in different parts of the city, are all part of a grassroots process that contributes towards improving the quality of life for all Calgarians.

“Above all . . . it is a wonderful place for kids . . . Mazel Tov!,” he declared.

Area MLA Alison Redford praised the partnership of government, community, school and parents for working together to realize a dream. The government minister, who is running for the leadership of the Alberta Tory party, said she has learned after attending many Jewish events that a key aspect of Jewish culture “is celebration of what came before and what is to come in the future. What you have accomplished here speaks to the future of the Jewish community, the city and the province. You are a wonderful example to us all.”

Last but not least to the podium was CJA dad, Lorne Weiner, who has lived and breathed the playground project for two years as project manager and chief wrangler. He humbly a tipped his hat in praise  “of all the parents and students who put their heart and soul into this.” He particularly singled out Ward 11 alderman Brian Pincott, who was not able to attend the ceremony, but who played an essential role in steering the approval process at city hall.

A sound engineer, musician and songwriter by trade, Weiner is of the generation that a playground usually means a tetherball, a rickety old slide and maybe a large tire or two hanging from a tree. (And a supply of splints and bandages in the school nurse’s office.)

But all that has changed over the years. Playground design and construction is now an art and a science and in fact the parent group, which launched this project, had to wade through a lot of very detailed research to come up with the right specifications. Children’s safety is a primary issue but there are many other criteria, such as ensuring age-appropriateness of devices, esthetics, and encouraging imagination. A subcommittee visited numerous playgrounds in Calgary to see what was available and to understand what things the kids were using and why. In fact, the business of playground design is so complicated that a recent Globe and Mail story reported about a University of Western Ontario research project to mount GPS units on children to remotely assess how they were using – or not using – playground equipment.

After developing a design philosophy comes the process of locating and qualifying various possible suppliers.

While these nuts and bolts were being discussed, the approvals process and fund raising were going on in parallel. Key support was received from the neighbouring communities of Chinook Park, Kelvin Grove and Eagle Ridge because after hours the playground serves as a community facility. Input was obtained from Erin Bond and Julide Saltuklaroglu of Autism Partnership for the sake of special needs kids. And several staff and former staff of CJA became deeply involved, as did the CJA Student Council.

The overall budget came in at around $220,000 but it is expected the playground will be a legacy project that will last decades. Major financial support came from the Alberta Government’s Community Facility Enhancement Program, with some urging by MLA Redford, and the Building Parks program sponsored by the Parks Foundation of Calgary – a private non-profit charitable organization.

A company called Habitat was eventually chosen as supplier. But before work could begin the old playground had to be demolished or removed. Fortuitously a partnership was struck up with the Mountain View Hutterite Colony who came in and took down all the old gear for their colony playground and expertly repaired the site.

To build the new playground the supplier said would take 30 workers each for four days at nine hours a day. So Lorne Weiner and Rory Hornstein mounted the phones to draft the labour.  Altogether some 70 parents were involved in some aspect of the project. Help even came from as far as Croatia in the form of Slavko Lozancic, who was in Calgary visiting his family. An engineer, Slavko could not stay away from the project.

Altogether the volunteer crew had to drill at least 100 holes and raise 80 vertical supports. You know how hard it is to assemble a small bedroom dresser from Ikea – well imagine a 7,000 square foot dresser where all the holes have to line up. The work crews sometimes slogged through rain and mud, other times blazing heat and mosquitos. They shoveled gravel, poured cement, and threaded countless bolts. It’s even said that Lorne Weiner spent a night in his car at the playground to ensure the construction schedule could be met.

At the end of the day they succeeded and CJA has a marvelous facility that will be of benefit to its students and the neighbourhood for years to come. And Lorne Weiner has hung up his tool kit and is back to writing songs and recording – just as soon as he has finished writing the “book” about the project. It’s actually a 14-page PDF file and once the clean up is done, it will be distributed to the Calgary Jewish Academy community. But more people should read it because it’s not only a rip-roaring fun story; it is a serious exposition of modern playground planning.  And between the lines it is a great tale of how a community can work together.

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