J.J. O’Neill finds creative way to ice up recess time

Students at J.J. O'Neill Catholic School enjoy a skate on a custom built rink in the playground. photo by Kevin Dorey.

Adam Prudhomme

Recesses at Napanee’s J.J. O’Neill got a major upgrade this winter thanks to the installation of an 11×30 metre ice rink.

Drawing inspiration from other Catholic schools in the district, J.J. O’Neill principal Kevin Dorey oversaw the project. A custom kit was purchased from the local Home Hardware and staff and students pitched in to construct the ice pad.

“I’ve been thinking about it for years so I was asking (staff at other schools) who had them what do you have to do, what rules do you have to follow,” said Dorey. “It’s just a patch of ice on a playground and you have rules for the playground. It’s a little more interesting in the middle of a pandemic.”

Just as backyard renovations skyrocketed for families with young kids throughout the lockdown, Dorey saw the rink as a way to make the best of the situation. He likened it to a staycation-if they’re going to be in the schoolyard more often, it only made sense to make it more enjoyable.

“When the whole pandemic thing came down, we have all these restrictions and rules but the one thing they told us was to get the kids outside as much as possible,” he added. “It also seemed clear we weren’t going to be allowed to take any field trips, not even walking trips. So we sunk a lot of money into the playground and tried to really upgrade the outdoor space.”

Students helped to construct the rink in the fall. Photo by Kevin Dorey.

Work began in October but it wasn’t until the return from the extended Christmas break that the weather cooperated to provide perfect skating conditions.

“It didn’t take that long to throw it together,” said Dorey. “We had the kids help with the braces and stack it up and wait for the cold weather.”

Students flood the ice in the morning. Photo by Kevin Dorey.

Students are also heavily involved with the maintenance of the ice, helping with the flooding and cleaning.

Per COVID-19 guidelines, students are relegated to cohorts of classmates to limit any risks of infection. When recess rolls around, students rotate through 11 play areas, one of which being the rink. It’s been a huge hit among the students, offering a nice pick up in what’s been an unusual and at times challenging school year.

Though the rink was a perfect addition during the pandemic, the plan is to make it a mainstay at the school for years to come. When winter’s over it will be taken apart and stored away until the next season.

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