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Outdoor fun focus of school outreach

If Quamichan and Alexander students get their way, their improved school grounds will boast a basketball court, playground — and an outdoor wrestling ring.

Those were among the suggestions brought forward to planner Lisa Bhopalsingh when she visited the students last week to gain their input on the site.

It was the latest move Bhopalsingh has made to gain insight on what community members would like to see incorporated into an outdoor community centre in the works.

“That’s when it will become a community piece: when people have helped build it and have had a say in it too,” she said. “I didn’t want to limit them. Realistically, there will be some budget constraints, but let’s just think about all the things we’d like to see.”

School District 79, in partnership with the District of North Cowichan, has received money from the Ministry of Education to build an outdoor community centre.

The School Community Connection Program’s purpose is to transform the Quamichan and Alexander school grounds into a hub for outdoor and unstructured recreational activities.

On Feb. 24, during a community fair, planners will unveil conceptual drawings of what the site might look like. The fair will be a chance for the community to give their input on three design options drawn by landscape architect Jessica Gemella.

Among the common elements of the three drawings are a basketball court, playground, community gardens and a sheltered picnicking area.

“It’s not just for the students,” Gemella said. “It’s for the entire community.”

The first phase of the project was conducted last spring to identify potential donors and to determine the community’s recreational desires. Now in its second phase, planners are hoping to get feedback about the tentative plans from people who’ll be using the site.

“The aim is to take the best elements from the three plans and combine them,” Gemella said. “They’ve done several planning studies and there is a real need for green space in this community.”

The Ministry of Education has allotted planners $127,000 for the third phase of the project. Since, as Bhopalsingh put it, “that doesn’t go very far on a project like this”, planners will be looking for people and organizations to donate to the project.

Chris Hall, director of planning for North Cowichan, said the project ties in nicely with the neighbourhood plan he has been working on for the past few years.

“That’s why I’m excited about it,” he said. “I’m excited about the fact that it provides us with an opportunity to address the needs of the neighbourhood.

“Overriding all of that is the awareness within the neighbourhood they can change things, and they can make a difference in whatever happens in their neighbourhood.”

A community fair is being held Feb. 24 in the Alexander school gym from 12:30 p.m. until 3 p.m. At the fair, attendees will be able to review designs and provide their feedback.

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