Downtown has had its first park since September, but there’s something it doesn’t have.
“Downtown does not have a playground,” said Ian O’Donnell, the head of the Downtown Business Association.
That’s about to change.
Fundraising has begun on a $150,000 program to upgrade Dick Mather Park. That’s the area next door to McKay Avenue School on 99 Avenue between 104 and 105 streets.
“There are multiple family friendly apartments and you often see families using that park,” O’Donnell said. “There’s a gazebo, and kids climb on it and there’s certainly grass to play with a ball, but there isn’t physical equipment. So we’re going to add a slide, a swing set and something climbable that’s contextual to the 1881 Schoolhouse.”
The DBA is working with the Edmonton Public School Board on the design and eventually the installation. The school is used for programming, and thousands of kids pass through there every year — for lessons on what schools were like when we were still in the North West Territories, or for older students studying Alberta’s political history, when McKay School served as the province’s first legislature.
The trick will be to make the equipment match the theme. They’re using pictures of yesteryear, which featured equipment made out of wood which would horrify safety advocates if they were used today. O’Donnell said they’ll use modern equipment made out of materials of today, but made to match the decor of the school.
Alex Decoteau Park became downtown’s first park in 30 years, however O’Donnell said they deliberately made the choice to not include playground equipment.
“It wasn’t to dismiss a need for a playground, it was, ‘let’s get this one established, serve many needs, let’s work very quickly on a playground at Dick Mather.'”
By 2019, O’Donnell said downtown should be on its way to two more parks.
“We’re hoping that the Milner (Library) — the plaza south of it — there’s some intention to have a playground there. Then in the new district park north of Jasper between 106 and 107 streets, in back of the Boston Pizza, that’s going to be between a one- and 1.4-hectare park, it’ll be an opportunity to build a little bit larger there.”
The district park is still five years away Councillor Scott McKeen said. Planning for it is still in the early stages by city staff.
The DBA has already put in $10,000 seed money for Mather. More is anticipated soon from the Edmonton Police Foundation.
“We’re ambitious, but we’re hoping that we have the capital dollars in place by late April or early May,” O’Donnell said. “It’s a small park. We’re hoping that maybe a month or two of construction and then by mid-summer by the very latest we’ll be able to enjoy it, certainly next year.”