Paris Central School is steeped in the history of families. All schools are: the daily backdrops and rhythms of children’s lives. The elation of first friendships, the heartbreak of first crushing disappointments. This is where the world first tells kids No, and tells them Yes, spinning those complex webs of relationships with peers, adults and community. So much of this first develops in the schoolyard, one of which Paris Central has hosted for over a hundred years.
Our daughter attends Paris Central and we are working with the parent committee to try and win $50k toward playground renovations. Please take a second to vote & share. Voting ends Thursday October 19th at 5pm ET – https://www.avivacommunityfund.org/voting/project/view/17-498#5
Walking down Station Hill toward the Library and downtown, it is with supreme affection for the school that we confess its prison-esque first impression. Situated squarely across from the small and lovely triangle of green in King’s Ward Park, the school playground gives off an opposite impression: it is a sad piece of landscaping with broken pavement, little to no flowers or greenery, a long chain link fence, and the remains of an old parking lot jutting out of the asphalt at strange angles. Used daily by 170 students, along with after school programs and sports clubs, the space is begging for more trees, benches, a sandpit, updated sports equipment, and an overall more considered design.
We know from other parents that the cracked, misshapen and sloping asphalt render the playground partially unusable, especially in icy and wet weather conditions. Kids take turns rotating between areas of the playground to accommodate safety concerns, which means they only access the play structure once or twice a week. If your favourite sport as a kid is basketball and that’s all you want to do, you’re out of luck, you might only get a chance to play occasionally. The space leaves a lot, well, almost everything, to the imagination. Of course the students don’t see it this way which falls somewhere on the scale between heartwarming and heart-wrenching.
One of the sad things about this playground is that it used to be the grounds of a beautiful, stately old school building. We have often lamented the demolition of that 1909 structure which was majestically placed at the top of the hill facing downtown. At the time, local industrialist John Penman had donated $15,000 toward the new building’s construction, 25% of the total costs, on the condition of including Corinthian columns. These were realized beautifully. When the plan for a new school building arose in the 1970s, the powers that be circulated a pamphlet advertising the coming change and heralding the new (current) school building as an achievement of modernity. In 1972 the original statuesque piece of architecture along with the even older King’s Ward School turned to dust.
The loss of these buildings cannot be reclaimed, but our advocacy for this playground renewal is of the same spirit. As our town’s population growth outpaces the provincial average by 10%, let’s grow in mindful ways. Let’s design thoughtful spaces that are at once functional, reflective of their heritage, community-minded and inspiring.
Fast forward to today and we have been heartened to find the community willing to get behind this initiative. In the Parent Council’s bid for a $50,000 Aviva Community Fund Grant, we’ve acquired close to 30,000 votes in a matter of days. Not shabby at all for a town of 12,000 served by four different elementary schools. (Voting ends Thursday October 19th at 5pm ET, if you haven’t voted yet, please do!) Our message has been plastered on giant marquee boards, in the windows of small businesses, handed out by kids at the Arena and supermarkets, and has even gone out with the delivery of pizzas and local newspapers. It seems the town understands that together, we can build something great.
“I think this is important even if you don’t have children in this school. Maybe your grandchildren will play on this equipment when they come to visit. Or remember what your children enjoyed playing on when they were little – there was probably a grassroots group of parents that worked hard to get it installed for future generations to enjoy.”
– Anne Marie Van Heck
This playground’s role in the town is significant beyond the daily routines of current students. Outside school hours and during summer, the school yard becomes part of Paris’ offerings. It is the only park downtown before arriving at the more dominant Lions Park over the Nith River. The closest park other than Lions is little Jury Street Park ten blocks north, and it is small and embedded in a neighbourhood.
Imagine a downtown ecosystem working together: King’s Ward Park with vendor stalls and picnics and a farmers market with live music, kids crossing the road to play safely at the Paris Central Playground, or heading down the road to library activities. Imagine pick-up soccer games, summer program scavenger hunts, and a sense that as a town we have another communal space. Instead of walking by and ignoring the playground, people might actually stop and play and talk to one another and stay outside a little longer.
At its surface this may feel like an acquisition, a matter of obtaining better facilities for our kids. Yes, and it goes deeper than that. We can’t help feeling that if we allow our common spaces to become unusable, unsafe and uncared for, what does that say about how we want our town to grow? What does an underserved schoolyard say to our kids about how the community feels about them and how they should feel about themselves and others?
“At a well-run public school like Central, you not only get a good education, you mix with young people from all walks and stations of life, with whom you realize you have much in common. In this way, the social fabric of Canada is strengthened.”
– Fred Bemrose, who graduated from Central in 1929, as told to John Bemrose in 2002
Our experience of the school so far doesn’t match the bleak perspective that the playground is currently communicating. The school and its students, teachers and parents are warm, friendly, open and community-minded. And so it seems we have a chance to reflect these small town and small school ideals in a revitalized public space that stands for our sense of community and care for each other. Our fingers are crossed.
Can you help us make this dream a reality? The Aviva Community Fund is our current focus for fundraising, where we have a chance to win $50,000. We are very close to becoming a finalist and we need your help to stay in the Top 5 within our Community Health category. Please vote and get your loved ones to vote so that we have a shot at progressing to the next judging round. If we make it that far, we get an automatic $5,000. You can follow along with our progress on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Voting ends Thursday, October 19th at 5pm.
Thank you for the support of our kids and community!