$70,000 in gifts ensures Keating Elementary gets a playground

Keating Elementary students can expect to have a new playground by early next spring, despite the fact that $40,000 collected to build it went missing from the coffers of the school’s parent advisory committee.

The loss of the funds has spurred an investigation by the Central Saanich police, which began in July.

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News of the situation inspired a pair of substantial donations to ensure Keating’s students would not be disappointed. The Peninsula Co-op stepped up with $30,000 for new playground equipment, while Garden City Tree & Landscape is giving time, material and resources worth $40,000.

Victoria Martin, chairwoman of the Saanich school board, said the large gifts are “completely overwhelming.”

“We’re just tremendously grateful for the outpouring of support and for the incredible generosity.”

Keating Elementary has about 400 students in kindergarten through Grade 5.

Garden City’s Chris Stansfield said the contributions were made without either donor being aware of what the other had planned.

“So what we’ve done is we’ve turned that negative into a positive and we’re actually going to build a $70,000 playground instead of a $40,000 playground.”

Stansfield said people at his company just wanted to help.

“We felt that what happened was horrible, and the only way that we can get by in a society is if everybody kind of bucks up when they can,” he said. “We wanted to show these kids that horrible things happen, but it’s up to us to overcome those things.”

Penny Sopel, Co-op’s manager of community relations, said the donors want the best for students.

“It’s great that we’re both working together,” she said. “Garden City is also a member of the Co-op, so that kind of even makes it more special.”

Being able to make a difference is what matters, Sopel said.

“It’s been an overwhelming, great experience from something that was just a really sad story.”

The design process for the playground is underway in consultation with the Saanich school district and will take about four to eight weeks, Stansfield said. What will emerge is a playground that emphasizes natural items, he said.

“A big element is the natural components such as stumps and logs and roots,” he said. “We get all this stuff as a byproduct of our day-to-day operation with regular tree and landscape work.”

Stansfield said the lay of the land will inform the design. “We’re going to build a little fort on top of a hill and have a climbing wall embedded into the hill.”

The playground will also be available for use beyond school hours, Martin said.

“We all know that when the school doors close, families in the community use those playgrounds,” she said. “It should be an incredible facility.”

jwbell@timescolonist.com

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