Dreams for playground at former tent city site taking shape

Neighbourhood children and an anonymous donor have chipped in to help a playground project at the former tent city site on the courthouse lawn, expected to be complete in the next few months.

“A finalized remediation plan is in place and a contractor is being hired through a competitive procurement process. A redevelopment plan will be completed in January. By the end of February, we expect the site to be finalized,” said Tasha Schollen, from the Ministry of Technology, Innovation and Citizens’ Services, which manages the land.

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“The playground will be accessible to children of all ages and abilities,” Schollen said. There will also be items geared toward adults, such as chess tables, benches and exercise equipment, she said.

Ministry staff, including a playground designer, met Grade 5 students from nearby Christ Church Cathedral School and Sir James Douglas School to look at designs, offer feedback and vote on their preferences.

“They asked if they could have a zip line from the school to the park. Kids have big imaginations,” said Stuart Hall, head of Christ Church. “They liked things like simple swings. Slides were OK. A spinning globe was everybody’s favourite — and rope-climbing structures.”

Hall said he likes the idea of a plaque to commemorate the tent city that led to more housing for the homeless, though that’s not part of the ministry’s plan. He thinks this will be the first playground in the downtown core.

He noted that there is a lot of construction in the area, much of it residential. “More new families who can’t afford land or a house will be in condos. Having a park nearby is perfect, wonderful.”

The ministry said the final design and budget are still in the works, but a local donor wanted to share the cost.

The site has undergone an extensive soil analysis and remediation process since it was closed in August. For nine months, more than 100 people lived at the small tree and grass park. The majority were homeless people from the streets who discovered the park was not under city jurisdiction and not covered by bylaws that limited camping to nights only. Tents, a campfire and stoves were set up, as well as small structures.

The homeless camp was closed by court order when the province was able to provide housing to every resident, which it procured through a $26-million investment in buildings and shelters throughout Victoria.

The province ordered soil testing for hazardous materials as part of the remediation process. This revealed small amounts of benzene, consistent with gas cooking materials, as well as methamphetamines. According to the report, the methamphetamine soil samples were taken in or near a suspected drug lab near the courthouse parking lot corner of the camp.

The province will close a bid for contractors to excavate and remove nearly 3,000 tonnes of soil this month. It will then be taken to a mainland facility to be treated and disposed of. The contractor would also co-ordinate the backfilling of the lot and maintaining foliage through an arborist. The final budget is not known.

spetrescu@timescolonist.com

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