Plethora of problems at North West River playground

Derek Montague
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ATVs, vandalism, drug use causing headaches for volunteers

Sitting at a picnic table on a nice sunny evening, two Lake Melville School committee members, Carla Saunders Cooper and Helena Riche, read an incredibly long list of issues facing the school’s playground in North West River: kids are driving all-terrain vehicles on the property, drug paraphernalia is constantly littered on the ground, equipment gets physically damaged and marked with graffiti.

For some young children, the playground is no longer a safe place to play, according to Cooper and Riche.

“There’re a lot of kids that are here that will beat up other kids and physically, mentally, verbally abuse them,” said Cooper.

“We have a huge problem with ATVs on here. It was probably a few nights ago that a yellow ATV and a green and black ATV chased some kids who were on foot.”

Cooper, in the span of one week, found four homemade bongs on the playground, which were used for smoking marijuana. Even some children have come across the paraphernalia, not knowing what they were.

“We have kids as young as six or seven who are finding these things and placing them in garbage cans,” said Riche.

Bongs aren’t the only items of trash being picked off the ground. On May 13, nine bags of garbage were collected from the playground, which had accumulated over the winter.

“It snowed, the snow melted, and then, all of a sudden, we’re swamped with garbage again,” said Cooper.

Cleaning is something committee members and school staff have to do regularly. Graffiti on slides and other equipment often needs to be scrubbed off as soon as it is written with permanent marker.

“That graffiti has been sexually vulgar,” said Riche.

“We have a really good janitor who helps us (remove the graffiti),” added Cooper. “He’s got some home remedies that he uses to get that stuff off.”

Despite the vandalism, children from North West River and Sheshatshiu frequent the playground. In order to try and keep the area clean and safe, members of the school committee and concerned residents have done walking patrols.

“We have regular walkers who walk by, speak up if they have to speak up,” said Riche. “There have been times where we’ve done shifts.”

The situation is especially frustrating for Riche. Back in October of 2013, the playground was named “Zachary’s Playground,” in honour of her late nephew Zachary Riche.

Zachary was just 12 years old when he passed away in 2012 from complications caused by his cardiomyopathy. At the time of his death, Zachary was in a Toronto hospital, where his family was hoping he could get a heart transplant.

“It’s very disappointing because kids from all communities are well aware of the whole situation,” said Riche. “Kids can clearly read the signs that was placed up just last year … one would assume that people would show a little more respect.”

The playground has been upgraded tremendously over the past couple of years. Many people in the Labrador community donated time, effort, money and services to make Zachary’s Playground a modern recreational facility.

“To put so many thousands of dollars into a playground, and all the sweat that went into it, to have it vandalized … it’s very disheartening,” said Riche.

“This playground was put here for kids of all ages for any community.”

Cooper and Riche said the RCMP has been called many times, and names of vandals were given to them. But, according to the two school committee members, that has done nothing to solve the problems.

“We have called on the RCMP, ever since we started this two years ago and to no avail.”

Cpl. Jonathan Kenny of the Sheshatshiu RCMP detachment told The Labradorian he was not aware of any names being given to the police in regards to the playground problems. But, he said the RCMP would be doing regular patrols in the evenings.

“I know that patrols have been made and there has been a request for continued patrols, and we are doing that,” said Kenney.

In the meantime, the school committee is taking matters into its own hands. A funding request has been made for an eight-foot fence to surround the playground. The fence would have a gate that could be locked at night.

“At least then it gives us a little more security,” said Riche. “Will it fix the problem? Probably not.”

Organizations: Lake Melville School, RCMP, Toronto hospital

Geographic location: North West River, Labrador

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