Vandalism, bullying, continues to be a problem
A year ago, this was not how Carla Saunders Cooper and the rest of the Lake Melville School Committee imagined Zachary’s Playground would look.
© Derek Montague/The Labradorian
Zachary’s Playground in North West River is now surrounded by a fence to help deal with the constant threat of vandalism.
The open playground in North West River is now surrounded by a high fence and a locked gate. Nobody wanted to enclose the playground, but they had little choice.
Ever since the snow melted this spring and children began using the playground, there have been instances of bullying, drug use and severe vandalism.
“It’s kind of heartbreaking, because you poured your heart and soul into it and we worked really hard,” said Cooper.
“You feel bad that it’s not going the way you told people that it would. But what do we do? We can’t leave it there to be beaten up either.”
The new fence was erected on June 24 after three days of construction. The gate will remain locked 24/7 until further repairs are done.
All four picnic tables at the playground have been knocked out of their concrete beds by ATVs. The sharp anchors that held the tables in place are sticking out, which could cause injury.
“It’s a safety hazard to have the tables there like that, the bottom is now sticking up with all the broken-off cement anchors. So if the kids snag themselves on that, they’re likely to get a good cut,” said Cooper.
“There’s also a bike rack, which they continue to run over on their four-wheelers. But it seemed to take the pain because nothing happened to it.”
Vandalism costs the committee time and money. The fence cost $20,000, while picnic table repairs were an estimated $5,000. The committee had to fundraise to cover the expense.
“It really pushes your buttons because the playground was put there for everybody and now no one can use it because we’re stuck doing repairs,” said Cooper.
The constant playground problems are also wearing thin on the volunteers who have tried to keep things safe for the kids. For the past two months they have gone to the playground in shifts to supervise. With the gate now closed indefinitely, Cooper and the other members can take a needed break.
“Right now we don’t have a schedule put in place (to reopen), we just wanted to take a little break. Everyone’s got vacations that are coming up. It’s a bit hot to be doing that work too,” said Cooper.
“If we don’t take a break, we’re going to lose our members.”
The committee members couldn’t even rest during fence construction. After receiving reports that children were picking at the fence posts, a security guard was hired.
The situation came to a head on June 25. The fence was finished, but the committee still needed to purchase a chain and lock to bar the gate.
According to Cooper, a group of 15-20 children from Sheshatshiu entered the playground. The security guard and one of the volunteers told the kids that they had to leave because of the ongoing repairs.
Cooper went to the playground after being informed of the situation and the RCMP was called. According to Cooper, when she confronted the children, she received a barrage of insults and curses, including being called a racist by some of the Innu kids.
“They called me names and (I got angry). I’m sorry, but you don’t call me racist,” said Cooper.
“That was totally wrong.”
The kids finally left when she chased them off the playground. By the next day, the gate was locked and secure.
When the playground is reopened, the committee will have to figure out what time to unlock the gate in the morning and when to lock it in the evening.
It’s possible the playground will only be available when there’s a volunteer to supervise.
The committee wanted it to be like it always was: an open space where kids could go and play freely.
“We had envisioned it that way, because that’s the way we were reared up. But our kids won’t go there, not without us. Not a chance,” said Cooper.
What make things even more frustrating are the time, effort and money that were poured into Zachary’s Playground.
Recently, the playground was revamped with new equipment. Citizens, organizations and companies donated their services to make the playground look good.
Even the name of the playground is new. In October 2013, it was named for Zachary Riche, a 12-year-old North West River boy who had died a year earlier.
That makes the playground vandalism especially frustrating for Zachary’s aunt, Helena Riche, who volunteers on the school committee.
“It’s very disappointing, because kids from all communities are well aware of the whole situation,” Riche told The Labradorian in May.
“Kids can clearly read the signs that was placed up just last year … one would assume that people would show a little more respect.
“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.”