Coming to the Aid of Little Warriors: PCL and the Playground

When health authorities deemed the playground at the Little Warriors Be Brave Ranch east of Sherwood Park, Alberta—the first specialized, intensive treatment centre in Canada for children and adolescents who have been sexually abused—unsafe, Little Warriors CEO Laurie Szymanski was at a loss. 

Because of an ant infestation in its original location, the playground had to be moved, and the alternative location—which had a grass play surface—was considered by Alberta Health Services (AHS) to be unsuitable. With an out-of-reach price tag of at least $300,000 to fix the playground, Szymanski watched as the play area was wrapped in red danger tape.

The children relying on the ranch to help them overcome trauma couldn’t get near the playground, let alone play in it.

Trauma treatment without play

The statistics for childhood sexual abuse in Canada are grim: one in three girls and one in six boys are sexually abused.

The Little Warriors Be Brave Ranch—the only one of its kind in Canada—is a safe haven for many of these children, providing healing and support for over 100 kids a year from across the country.

The treatment program at the ranch is one year long, with the initial visit lasting between two weeks and a month. After the first onsite visit, the child returns home for three months, and then heads back to the ranch for another two weeks. A child in the treatment program will visit the ranch four times over the course of the year and receive more than 200 hours of multimodal therapy. 

“We have an amazing treatment program, using all the latest evidence-based research models, and the playground provides another place for therapy to continue but also a place for kids to be kids,” states Szymanski. “At the end of the day, the kids need a place to just unwind and relax.”


PCL answers the call for help

With the playground shut down and no way for the charity to foot the repair bill, Szymanski had no choice but to ask for help. A playground was simply too essential for the ranch to go without.

“The lodge and the treatment program are the brains of the organization, but the playground is the heart—and our heart was missing.”

Little Warriors pleaded its case to Albertans—and the call was answered by PCL Construction.

“We are always looking at ways where we can help where we live,” says Kevin Burghardt, P.Eng., senior project manager at PCL. “Little Warriors is a unique organization and they spend all of their money on the kids. When issues like this come up—where they have a playground that couldn’t be used—we didn’t hesitate to rally our trades and put the effort in with our own forces and get this thing built for them.”


Bringing the playground to life

Burghardt and his team started with a 3D scan of the playground equipment—understanding how it was put together would make rebuilding it easier later on. The scan also enabled the team to manipulate the equipment within the 3D environment to optimize the layout of the playground.

Another perk of the scan? When PCL discovered unexpected underground utilities near the playground, the scan allowed the company to modify the layout accordingly.

Following AHS approval, construction began. Burghardt worked closely with the trade contractors and had them re-engineer the foundation of the existing playground, which is designed and built to last a lifetime.

AHS mandates that playground surfaces be made of certain materials like sand, wood mulch, pea gravel, or tire crumb. Little Warriors chose tire crumb—long lasting and durable, it has the highest safety rating of any playground surface material. The team dug out 14 inches of dirt, sloped the area to a central drain with a weeping tile system to ensure proper drainage, and installed more than 90,000 kilograms of tire crumb.


How planning contributed to success

Once the project started, everything fell into place due to the extensive planning. 

“In our business, planning is everything. If we go in without thinking through the scenarios and coming up with backup plans, it doesn’t go well. We spend considerable effort on that planning, and it goes beyond us and the trades as well,” states Burghardt. “There are a variety of stakeholders. The owners and the board were a wealth of information. Without information and collaboration from everyone, the project wouldn’t have been as successful as it was.”

After two months of planning and one month of construction, the new playground was ready for the latest cohort of excited children at the Be Brave Ranch. The playground now sits at the heart of the ranch property and the kids enjoy it every day. 

Little Warriors PCL playground

How do you say thank you without words?

“We held a thank you barbeque out here for PCL and their contractors, but saying thank you to PCL seems so insignificant for what they pulled off for us,” says Szymanski. “It's the heartfelt appreciation on behalf of the kids to PCL, and their subcontractors—how do you even put that into words? For a huge company to take on a project like that, and for someone to be here every day, they really cared. It wasn't just a job—they really cared."

For Burghardt and PCL, helping Little Warriors was a given. 

“We live in the communities that we work in and PCL, as an organization, is set up in a variety of cities across North America,” says Burghardt. “Being an employee-owned company, it is very important to give where we live. And we find those opportunities where we can bring our experiences and know-how to take on projects like this—to help organizations like Little Warriors do things they never thought possible or couldn’t do themselves.

“Seeing the importance and hearing the stories of those kids using the playground and the positive impact it has, while helping them with their issues and challenges—it just hits you. What seems like a simple playground has the potential to help even just one kid. It’s just so much more than that.” 


Have a story to tell? 

If you or your company have a story of helping your community, we’d love to talk to you! Email [email protected] and we will reach out to you. 

Featured in this Article

Kevin Burghardt, P.Eng. 

Laurie Szymanski, CEO