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'Senior-friendly' park touted for school field at Hillside and Blanshard

A rally is planned for 10:30 a.m. Tuesday in support of a park to serve residents of several nearby facilities. Proponents would like to see wide pathways, benches and a shelter in case of rain.
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S.J. Willis field. VIA GOOGLE STREET VIEW

Seniors are planning a rally Tuesday to call for a “senior-friendly” park at the former S.J. Willis Junior High School field, at the corner of Hillside Avenue and Blanshard Street.

The building on the site, a junior high school until 1983 and later an alternative learning facility, is the temporary home of Victoria High School while a new, seismically safe building is constructed at the school’s long-time home on Grant Street. The work is set for completion by next September.

Terry Dance-Bennink, a resident at the adjacent Wellesley retirement home on Blanshard Street, said the field is located in an area where there are several seniors’ facilities — the Ross Place retirement home and Summit assisted-living facility are also nearby — but doesn’t get a lot of use.

A park for seniors would offer physical exercise, social interaction and nature appreciation, proponents said in a statement.

“What we want to see, since so many of our people have wheelchairs or walkers, is wide pathways so that walkers can pass each other, benches that are the right height for seniors, a water feature and a shelter in case it rains,” Dance-Bennink said.

Other suggestions include an activity area where both children and seniors could gather, Indigenous art, a small stage and drought-resistant landscaping.

“We could just cross the road and sit in peace underneath all these lovely oak trees,” said Dance-Bennink, 74, who says the average age at the Wellesley is about 85.

Other senior-oriented facilities support the idea, as do businesses in the area, Dance-Bennink said.

“We’ve dropped flyers off at local stores,” she said. “Everybody says it’s about time.”

The park idea has not yet been raised with the Greater Victoria School Board, but vice-chairman Tom Ferris said he is not aware of a school field being turned into a park before.

He said any change would have to take into account the fact the S.J. Willis site is expected to be used for other temporary school relocations during future upgrades and seismic projects. The building could also eventually reopen as a school.

The seniors are pressing on, however, with the rally set for 10:30 a.m. at the field.

“We’ve got tonnes of walkers and wheelchairs and we’ve got colourful signs, we’ve got a drum,” Dance-Bennink said. “We’re going to be getting attention.”

jbell@timescolonist.com

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