If there was an excitement metre on the wall at All Hallows Elementary in North River on Thursday, Feb. 14, its readings likely would have been off the charts.
The entire school community clustered in the gymnasium early afternoon on Valentine's Day for an announcement that sent the 420-students in kindergarten to Grade 6 into a frenzy — a new playground will be built at the school on June 8.
That's correct. Construction will take place on one day.
And that's not the only unique thing about what's been dubbed the All Hallows Elementary Community Park Project.
A video played on a giant screen featuring Ian Hill of a charitable organization known as Let Them Be Kids revealed the project will receive a "Helping Hands Award" to ensure the playground becomes a reality.
What does this mean? For every dollar raised locally for the purchase of playground equipment, Let Them Be Kids will match. What's more, Let Them Be Kids will provide a wide variety of expertise and support, including a project coach and technical and engineering support.
Such an award has proven its worth in this region before. In 2012, a wildly successful playground project was completed at Acreman Elementary in Green's Harbour, with some $80,000 in matching funds contributed by Let Them Be Kids.
Let Them Be Kids approves several dozen such awards each year across Canada to assist wih the construction of playgrounds and skateboard parks.
Hill said his organization receives anywhere from 300 to 400 applications annually, and All Hallows stood out among those most worthy, despite a rigorous application process.
Meanwhile, the fundraising campaign got off to an encouraging start, with Port de Grave MHA Glenn Littlejohn turning over a $15,000 cheque from the provincial government.
The All Hallows school council followed that with an oversized novelty cheque containing the following figure — $20,000.
The Roman Catholic parish in the area has also made land available for the park, which also represents a significant donation.
But the fundraising is far from over, and an adhoc committee comprised mostly of parents and staff will now commence a campaign to convince area residents, businesses and organizations to contribute "time, talent and treasure."
And judging by the atmosphere at the announcement, it appears the park project will elicit widespread support. In addition to a floor blanked by blue-shirted, fresh-faced students, the audience also included many community, religious and business leaders from the region, and there were plenty of enthusiastic and supportive comments as they filed out of the school following the celebration.
It was hard not to get caught up in the excitement as the students sang, danced and cheered their hearts out for a cause that will do more than just see the construction of a playground. Those who support the project say it will also help strengthen the bond that exists between the eight communities served by the school.
Though it has not yet been announced, it's also believed the park project will be dedicated to a fallen member of the military.
A dedicated group of adults, led by parent volunteers Eddie Russell and Vincent Dawson, have been leading an initiative to upgrade the playground at the rear of the school.
It was off-limits to students for several months in 2012 because of unsafe and outdated equipment, and only reopened in the fall after a concerted effort by parents to remove old equipment and spruce up the site.
The ultimate goal is to design and build a play park that will allow children to play, exercise and learn in a safe and stimulating environment, and be enjoyed for many years to come.
Students will also play a vital role in the design of the park through a process called "dot-mocracy," allowing them to vote on the structures and amenities they would like to see at the site.
"This is an exciting time for our school community," Principal Kevin Giles noted.
• Weblink: www.ahe.ltbk.ca
• Twitter: @ALLHallowsPark