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The playground they deserve

by Derek Jory / Vancouver Canucks

As principal David Starr’s left arm rose into the air, a hush fell over the 330-student assembly at Edmonds Community School.

It was time.

The lights dimmed and a Vancouver Canucks highlight video began; the best moments from the 2010-11 season drew oooohs and aaaahs from the students sitting in organized chaos, while underneath U2’s “Where the Streets Have No Name” played and reinforced why Manny Malhotra and Dan Hamhuis were there.

Edmonds Community School is located in the poorest postal code in Canada that has a school. The facility lies at the corner of Canada Way and 18th Avenue in Burnaby, B.C., surrounded by high-density rental and subsidized housing as part of Vancouver’s largest concentration of government assisted refugees.

As the neighborhood school, Edmonds is the five-day a week home for kindergarten to grade 8 students, from upwards of 50 countries, many who arrive to Canada without a word of English at their disposal.

The classroom experience provided is second-to-none in educating these children, but principal Starr said it best, “it’s on this playground that children learn that laughter sounds the same in every language and that a love of swings and slides transcends all languages and cultures.”

“Here it takes on extra significance,” added Starr. “It is on the playgrounds that our students make their first friends and learn their first words in English. It is also on the playground that our students learn the basics of good citizenship.”

When last year’s school session ended, the eastward-facing playground at the front of Edmonds Community School was made up of a small red and blue skeleton structure with yellow slides at both ends. It was more than 25-years-old and redefined rundown. It was the type of playground that produced more shrikes than smiles. It needed to go.

Thanks to a partnership between the Malhotra family, the Hamhuis family, the Canucks for Kids Fund and the Burnaby School District, and the unparalleled support from Habitat Systems Incorporated and Landscape Structures, the playground has been fully refurbished – and by refurbished I don’t mean the squeaky screws were tightened and it got a new coat of paint.

“They’ve gone from a rusty old bicycle to a fleet of SUVs,” smiled Starr, “and that’s the best way I can look at it.”

Three years ago when Manny Malhotra was a member of the Columbus Blue Jackets, he and wife Joann wanted to make a difference in the community, so they funded and helped construct a new playground at Arlington Park Elementary School in Columbus.

The response to their generosity was so overwhelming that the Malhotras vowed to do it again and they approached the Canucks to make it happen. Dan Hamhuis and his wife Sarah caught wind of the idea and each family pledged $20,000 towards the project.

From the very beginning the Hamhuis’ were on board without hesitation as they’d also previously funded a playground, one for the Nashville Rescue Mission while they lived in Nashville.

On Friday, October 7, the Malhotra and Hamhuis families came together, along with workers from Habitat Systems Incorporated, to give Edmonds Community School the playground it deserves.

The new structure is as impressive as it is revolutionary and safe, and it features Canucks blue and green to make it truly one of a kind.

There’s a Cascade Climber, Trapeze Ladder, Disc Challenge, Spring Across Bridge, Double Gyro Twister, Saddle Spinners, Bobble Riders, Oodle Swing, and the piece de resistance, the Double Swoosh slide.

“It’s the fastest slide allowable by the Canadian Standards Association Playground Safety Guidelines,” said a proud Mark Bodie, owner of Habitat Systems Incorporated. “It’s very safe, but it’s also very fast. We wanted to thrill the kids and be very impactful, and in today’s video game dominated world, we needed to come up with really cool, exceptional play value.”

Part of the playground, which was designed, manufactured and shipped in less than eight weeks, was pre-installed when Malhotra and Hamhuis stepped outside following their appearance at the morning assembly, but there was a lot of work to be done and the Canucks weren’t wearing hardhats for the photo opp.

Providing financial backing wasn’t enough for either player or their family, they wanted to see the project through to completion.

And maybe even play with some construction toys along the way.

“I want to drive the bobcat, let’s be honest here,” laughed Malhotra. “In all seriousness, there’s something more than just donating monetarily in the community, to actually pull up your sleeves and be a part of the work and help out is a different story. I wanted to be a part of it and I wanted to see the smiles on the kids’ faces.”

Hamhuis also mentioned getting behind the wheel of the bobcat would be a perk, but that this project being close to his heart brought him out to help. As a father of two, Hamhuis is a regular at playgrounds and he sees first hand the impact they have.

“We have a park actually just like this right next to our house in Vancouver, so we see how much fun they have and how much fun the kids at the school and everyone in the neighborhood around us has,” said Hamhuis.

“Everyone uses that park and it’s a real central spot in the community for us and our neighborhood and this design is similar to that and we hope it does the same thing for this area.”

Malhotra and Hamhuis laboured for more than six hours constructing the playground and in Canucks team spirit they were joined by Daniel Sedin and Cory Schneider midway through.

Now, a breathtaking playground stands, one nearing completion, one that is much more than a recess hangout, it’s a haven for kids who need it most.

Principal Starr won’t have to raise his arm into the air to get a hush out of his students when they are introduced to the finished playground later this week.

They'll still be speechless at the generosity they’ve been shown.

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