Mackay Centre and Philip E. Layton playground closer to goal

Plans for the new space include accessible ramps, swings, and slides where the children can develop cognitive, sensory, and social skills

Mackay Centre playground

Photo credit: English Montreal School Board

The Mackay Centre and Philip E. Layton (PEL) schools in N.D.G. are edging closer to breaking ground on their long-awaited inclusive playground.

In late October, the Habilitas Foundation, formerly known as the MAB-Mackay Foundation, and the English Montreal School Board (EMSB) unveiled plans for the $2 million fully-accessible playground. At the presentation was Pierre Boivin (CEO of Claridge and former President of the Montreal Canadiens) accompanied by his daughter Catherine, a former student at the Mackay Centre School. Both generously accepted the roles of co-chairs of the playground’s “Every Child Has A Right To Play” fundraising campaign. Catherine called it an honour and privilege to be able to partner with her father in helping champion an inclusive play space for current and future generations of students.

“The Mackay Centre played a formative role in my early childhood and allowed me to make my first strides in life with confidence,” Catherine said. “I am thrilled to be able to contribute to the mission and vision of the Habilitas Foundation for a state-of-the-art school environment that gives every student a fulfilling experience.”

Mackay and PEL currently offer a total of 189 children aged 4 to 16 specialized educational and rehabilitative services in English and accept students from across Quebec. Students at the two schools have a variety of motor impairments, vision, hearing, and communication and language disabilities — with some using wheelchairs or other assistive devices. Since the schools moved from their previous location on Decarie Blvd. three years ago, students have been without a playground or space where they can play independently and alongside their peers.

The new inclusive playground will offer the children a barrier-free and socially-inviting outdoor area where they can play interactively. Plans for the playground include accessible ramps, swings, and slides where the children can strengthen their bodies and develop cognitive, sensory, and social skills.

The project was researched and planned over the course of the last two years to ensure that the layout, products, and features will reflect the school community’s diverse needs and ensure that all of the students can engage physically and socially in the sensory-rich outdoor space.

“Physical and social skill development are important elements in both physical education and play,” said Bob Simpson, the Mackay Centre’s physical, health education, and swimming teacher. “This new playground will create a stimulating environment that will further encourage our students to develop both of these. A variety of stakeholders had input into the playground to ensure it was designed with all our student’s abilities, needs and interests in mind.  The result is an environment that maximizes inclusion and allows students with disabilities to participate in a range of play activities, such as swinging, spinning, and sliding alongside their peers.”

A total of $1 million has already been raised for the playground’s construction. This includes a contribution of $450,000 from the Fondation Sami Fruits pour les Petits. The campaign aims to raise another $1 million dollars before work begins in the summer of 2022. In the meantime, parents and students are eagerly counting down the months until they can enjoy the new space.

Liam Dugas, who turns 9 this November, has attended Mackay for the past five years, and is excited that there will soon be a school playground that he can enjoy with classmates. “Liam loves to go to parks however he is often unable to independently participate in the activities due to his limited mobility, strength and balance,” said his mother Megan Kirby. “The Mackay/PEL playground goes way beyond wheelchair access and will be specifically designed to ensure that children of all abilities can play together, learn together, and enjoy a fun environment together!”

For more information about the Habilitas Foundation’s “Every Child Has A Right To Play” campaign visit www.habilitas.ca/everychild

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