The empty space after the wooden structures were removed. (Courtesy/Hidden Valley Elementary School council)

The empty space after the wooden structures were removed. (Courtesy/Hidden Valley Elementary School council)

Hidden Valley Elementary School council wants removed playground equipment replaced

Playground equipment is important for students’ physical and mental wellness, school council argues

After playground equipment was removed from Hidden Valley Elementary School in June due to safety concerns, the school council has been writing advocacy letters to the department of Education to replace the equipment. The effort has been without success.

In a June 16 letter to the former school superintendent Marilyn Marquis-Forster, the school council requested adequate playground equipment for more than 200 children at the school, explaining that the department’s current plan to remove the wooden play structures over the summer and replace it with nothing is poorly planned.

Some wooden structures at the school’s playground were over 30 years old, deemed unsafe and were removed. The school council said the structures were used everyday by students during the school year, and if they are not replaced with anything, students will be disappointed when they start arriving for the new school year on Aug. 22.

Chrissy Sands, a member of the school council, said the department’s current plan leaves one play structure, six swing seats and two tire swings for the approximately 200 students at the school.

“This is not sufficient for 200 children and a plan needs to be made to replace playground equipment as it is taken out,” she said.

Marquis-Forster responded to the school council in a June 29 letter and said that department of Education staff met with the school’s principal, Trine Dennis, to discuss options regarding playground equipment. A decision was made to remove the climbing structures at the front of the school rather than attempt to recondition them or to further explore the option of relocating the climber that is located at the back of the school.

“At this time, the feasibility of the relocation has not been fully determined but work is ongoing to explore this possibility,” she said. “There is also work being done at the school level to purchase a Gaga-ball court, which will add to the exterior options for schools.”

Gaga-ball courts are hexagon or octagonal shaped courts used for playing gaga ball, a variant of dodge ball

In her letter, Marquis-Forster said she will work with the school principal through the annual planning and budgeting cycles to identify play structure needs at the school.

“For this year at Hidden Valley School, upgrades to the Porcupine room were identified as top priority by Principal Dennis and investments will be made over the summer to ensure that this room meets the programming requirements for the school.”

After no action was taken by the department of Education on playground equipment, Sands wrote a letter to Education Minister Jeanie McLean, arguing the situation is unacceptable.

Sands said in the July 5 letter the school has been through an “exponential amount of stress over the last few years,” noting that the stress experienced by the school community was navigated without the support promised by the government, despite numerous requests by the school council and by parents at Hidden Valley.

“Now, we have children who will return to school in August without their favorite playground structures, just empty space. It is poor planning on behalf of the department to have the equipment removed without a plan in place to replace it right away,” she said in the letter to McLean. “Physical activity and outdoor play have many benefits for our children, both for physical and mental health. Outdoor play structures are critical for our children’s well-being. While we do not want unsafe playground equipment for our children, it should be immediately replaced by something that meets the department’s safety standards.”

She said relocating the climbing toy from the back of the school and adding a gaga ball area were discussions that have been ongoing to enhance the play structures that were already there.

“They are not intended to compensate for the removal of the large wooden play structures that provide a significant play area for multiple children to use at the same time,” she said. “While we support and encourage these options to be provided, additional play structures are needed to ensure there is adequate space for the children to safely play outdoors.”

Sands said the school council has budgeted out a new piece of equipment for $75,000 which would provide a suitable replacement to students.

“It is our hope the department will pay that or less to fund a suitable replacement play structure. We are requesting that the department find the funds to cover the equipment and install or immediately put in a request for additional funds through a management board submission,” she said.

She added that leaving the children at the school without replacement playground equipment is “completely unacceptable and we request a plan be made to replace this equipment with something safe and suitable for our children before the winter season.”

The school council met with the new superintendent Trevor Ratcliff on July 13 but said no solutions were proposed by the department and no progress was made on their request.

During the meeting, the school council were made aware of a 2019 report that indicated the wood structures had outlived their lifespan and at that time were marked for replacement.

The council queried why the department didn’t replace the school playground equipment in 2019, but rather waited until 2023 to have them removed without a replacement plan.

“In past years Minister McLean, you have promised our school extra resources to cope with exceptional circumstances, but these extra resources were never delivered,” the letter read. “Now our school has had the very basic resource of adequate playground equipment taken away and the school council continues to be left to deal with the aftermath. Please take action to address this situation.”

The school council said it’s been over a month since they started advocacy letters for the playground and with each passing week, no action is taken to make replacement structures likely for this fall.

For the first time since the school started writing advocacy letters, Minister McLean responded on July 19.

In a letter addressed to the school council, McLean said of significant importance to her is ensuring that all those who support the school community are working well together to ensure a great learning environment for students and staff and that facility and outdoor needs are addressed.

“It is a priority of the Yukon government to continue to invest in school infrastructure and ensure our schools meet the demands of the unique school communities they serve,” she said.

She thanked the school for meeting with Ratcliff to discuss their concerns.

“The schools and student services division commits to working closely with the principal and school council to identify and plan for capital priorities. As a follow-up to your initial meeting, a second meeting will be coordinated to provide information requested in your second letter in respect to playground assessments and to formalize short, medium, and long-term objectives and next steps for playground equipment needs,” she said.

In the interim, she said, there is a contract in place to have the rope climbing structure currently at the back of the school relocated to the front of the school. The work is slated to be completed prior to the start of the 2023-2024 school year.

She added that safe outdoor learning and play is an integral component of a child’s education and the government is committed to ensuring these opportunities are available for students.

In an email to the News, cabinet communications advisor Renee Francoeur said officials are working with a contractor to relocate the current climbing structure at the back of the building to the front of the building prior to the beginning of the school year.

“We are committed to continuing to work closely with the principal and school council to identify and plan for capital priorities,” she said.

Contact Patrick Egwu at