Parents don’t typically take advice from kids.
But 10 years ago this fall, that’s exactly what six parents did – and it has paid off handsomely ever since for all Leasiders.
The once-quishy, muddy Bessborough school playing field – an essential part of childhood for many Leaside youngsters – is today a manicured field of artificial turf that gives children thousands of hours of healthful exercise and fun every year, regardless of weather.
“It still brings a smile to my face when I see the field packed with kids playing sports or simply hanging out,” says Daryn Everett, a founding member of the parents’ committee. “Just last week I was driving with my daughter, and she said, ‘Hey dad, look at all those little ballers on the field’. I looked up and there had to be over 60 baseball players on the turf having fun!”
The plan to rejuvenate the field began in late 2005. “For some 30 years the field had been a dust bowl when it was not raining, and a mud pit when it was raining,” recalled Jeff Hohner, another key committee member.
When parents went into classrooms to get children’s wish-lists, they heard a torrent of ideas.
“Too much mud. Not enough grass,” complained many children .
Kindergarten boys and girls also asked for “monkey bars, a spider web, climbers, ropes, a tree-house, swings and more slides .” Grade 4/5 children wanted “a big field with lots of space” and a soccer field. Grade 7 youngsters asked for an open space for “field sports (and) hanging out.”
Other parents were consulted, too. Their requests included “a baseball diamond, soccer, football posts (and) an even field with no holes or mud.” And better lighting near the school “to discourage teenagers drinking at night”.
After raising $400,000 to finance the project – driven by the Bessborough Home and School Council – priorities were set, and work began. “It took five hard years of fund-raising in the community to raise $225,000, with the rest coming from the Toronto District School Board,” said Hohner.
By 2010, drainage was fixed, artificial turf had been laid over the entire yard and a Toronto Urban Forestry design consultant had offered landscaping ideas to separate play areas for “big kids and little kids”, an idea that Grade 6 students had promoted.
The artificial turf is still a great success today, and shows little signs of wear. It needs no mowing, watering, feeding or weed killers. The soft, springy surface protects boys and girls when they tumble. Sports boundary lines are indelible. Mud isn’t tracked into homes and children’s clothes are free of grass stains. Hay fever is a thing of the past for many and, remarkably, the almost-as-good-as-grass field is now usable all-year round, even after a heavy rain.
“Usage of the field may have increased an amazing ten-fold,” said Hohner.
All Leasiders are welcome to enjoy the artificial turf, with the exception of dogs, which can damage the grass-like material with natural “functions,” or by trying to dig holes. (Signs forbid dogs on the property).
“It was a wonderful experience to be able to provide what is really a year-round field for the neighbourhood to enjoy,” said Hohner, adding, “We could not have picked a better group of individual for our committee. – which included Gail Castillo, Laurel Neal, Mike Sales and Dennis Warenycia.
“The Bessborough field has changed the character of the neighbourhood. The schoolyard is now a meeting place for kids and families,” said Everett.