By Richard Bell
With the opening of public schools a week away, many parents of young children in Sheet Harbour are upset about the province’s failure to move a school playground to make it more accessible and safer for their children to access.
In the run-up to building a new primary-to-12 consolidated school in Sheet Harbour, the province closed Sheet Harbour Consolidated School (SHCS). This year, all the young students who would have attended SHC S will be going to Duncan MacMillan High School.
But the province chose not to move the playground next to SHCS, so that teachers will be forced to guide students across a 130-meter obstacle course of driveways and parking lots to use the playground during recess.
Coleen Mailman-Martin, with two children headed for 4th grade and 6th grade, summed up community anger about the situation in an open letter on her Facebook page, as well as posting a video taken while she and her three children navigated the long and potentially dangerous walk from Duncan Macmillan to the playground. Here’s what Mailman-Martin had to say:
To whom it may concern,
There is a playground in a small town on the outskirts of HRM.
This playground was attached to Sheet Harbour Consolidated. This school was closed June 2017. All of the students are being transitioned into Duncan MacMillan High School, which shares a property with SHC, but is separated by a parking lot and driveways. The playground is approximately 130 meters from the closest doors (the front doors) of DMHS. That’s 427 feet down a walkway, or across a lawn, across a driveway, through a parking lot, down a hill, across another driveway/parking lot. Not to mention directly beside a demolition site.
In June, parents were assured the playground equipment would be moved closer to DMHS to be used by the children until a new school is built.
Today, one week before school starts the playground equipment still rests beside SHC.
Many parents are unhappy with the distance and the unsafe scenarios of children crossing driveways and parking lots to access playground equipment.
Many parents offered assistance with moving of this equipment but were denied the option, being assured that equipment will be in place in the coming school year.
Now parents have many unanswered questions.
We as a community would like to see this situation resolved before school is back in on September 8th. These are our children and we can't put our trust in a mentality of "what if's"....
In an interview on Thursday night, HRM School Board member Bridget Boutilier confirmed that the province was not planning to move the playground. Instead, Boutilier said that she had been told that the province intended to put up a fence and a walkway to make it safer for the children to get to the playground, although she did not know when the fence and walkway would be in place.
“People sometimes forget that school boards do not build schools,” Boutilier said. “It’s the province that’s responsible for building new schools. We were told that they were going to tear down SHC in July, but it hasn’t happened yet.”
Boutilier suggested that parents should call their MLA, Lloyd Hines. “Hines is the MLA, and he’s the Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal,” Boutilier said. “That’s the department that builds schools.” But she believed Hines was away until September 14, which might make it hard to contact him before school opens.
Boutilier said that the new school will be the first primary-12 school in all of the Halifax School Board’s 136 schools. “Everything with this new school will be a first,” Boutilier said. “It will be a phenomenal school building, one of the best in the whole province, with all of the new green initiatives.” However, Boutilier also noted that the deadline for opening the new school might slip from September of 2018 to September of 2019.