New All-Inclusive Playground at Joe A. Ross School
Children playing on the new all-inclusive playground at Joe A. Ross School.

New All-Inclusive Playground at Joe A. Ross School

This October, Opaskwayak will celebrate the Grand Opening of the first all-inclusive play space in Northern Manitoba: the new playground at Joe A. Ross School.

The project began in March of 2021 when Opaskwayak Education Services (OES) identified the need for an inclusive and accessible playground that encouraged meaningful play and provided a therapy space.

“The old play equipment at Joe A. Ross School was aged and deteriorating,” says Jennifer Bercier, Student Services Coordinator at OES. “It lacked the features to keep children of all ability levels active and engaged.”

Bercier is part of the working group who oversaw the project. The group, led by clinical expertise, is made up of individuals from the Rehabilitation Centre for Children, Jordan’s Principle and OES Student Services.

They began the project by researching what accessible equipment was required for those living with exceptionalities and children of all abilities. The working group’s proposal illustrated a fully accessible and inclusive structure with adaptable swings, a dome, a double rail glide for those with mobility needs, sensory play equipment, a musical area, five different slides and a rubberized ground.

“Our goal was to build a playground that children, youth and adults of all ages and abilities can enjoy,” says Bercier.

The working group struggled to find financial support before presenting their proposal to Chief and Council who agreed to allocate full funding to the project in the amount of $805,500. Leadership unanimously passed a motion that enabled the project to start shortly after.

“We are proud to say that Opaskwayak is now the forerunner in meeting the diverse outdoor play needs for our community,” says Chief Sidney Ballantyne. “It’s important that we start to have inclusive thinking and that includes putting resources into our membership at a young age. We hope this investment will foster the lifelong wellbeing of mind, body and spirit and overall help improve quality of life.”

Construction of the playground began at the end of the 2021-2022 school year, after Little Tikes completed the fabrication of what the structure could look like. OES also contributed $65,000 from their own budget to financially offset costs and ensure the work was done to code.

OES portfolio holder, Councillor William J. Lathlin (a.k.a. Shorty), is excited to see the project near completion.

“As someone who worked at the elementary school throughout my career, it’s satisfying to see that my peers at the leadership table understand the importance of investing in our children and youth,” says Lathlin.

The playground, which will be completed in October, provides accessible, safe, highly motivational play experiences that help promote the healthy development of physical, social, cognitive and sensory abilities. OES is planning a celebration on October 12 to show the community the amount of work that went into this project.