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Plans for two elementary schools to be more sustainable include secret garden, greenhouse, trails

Given elementary schools are where we send our children to begin their learning career, it makes sense that these schools should be places that cultivate environmental sustainability. Yet, with Philadelphia children being bullied by a large education budget deficit every year, sustainability isn't often a priority. With this in mind, four teams presented their plans to sustainably transform West Philly’s Lea Elementary and Germantown’s Kelly Elementary at last week’s design charrette held by the Community Design Collaborative.

The first two plans examine ways to transform Lea School, which is a K-8 school at 47th and Locust Sts. in the Walnut Hill neighborhood. The first plan strives at "establishing the schoolyard as the ‘front door’," says Maurice Jones, the president of the Lea Home and School Association, who presented on behalf of the first team. Jones says his team recommends cultivating a garden for an entrance, which would provide stormwater management through rain barrels and a rain garden. The school is already in the process of doing this, using the City's Recyclebank grant money.

The second plan for Lea addresses stormwater, learning, and traffic. This plan calls for turning the asphalt that dominates the schoolyard into a soft porous play surface, says presenter Michael Hickman, a water resources designer for Meliora Design in Phoenixville. Hickman also calls for tree trenches and cisterns to better control rainwater. To bring the educational component back into play, he also wants to create an outdoor classroom and a “secret garden,” somewhat similar to the first plan. Finally, Hickman desires curb bump-outs to calm traffic on Locust and Spruce Sts. 

The other two teams tackled ways to sustainably transform Kelly Elementary, which is a K-6 school in the much less dense neighborhood of Pulaski and Manheim in Germantown. The first plan for Kelly prescribes removing the school’s blacktop, putting in some trees, establishing some raised bed gardens, and possibly constructing a greenhouse, says presenter Dennis Barnebey, who taught in Philadelphia public schools for 32 years. Finally. Barnebey desires an outdoor classroom and rain garden, which would support woodland and other plants.

The final plan for Kelly facilitates “exposing the children with their connection to nature, says speaker Vicki Mehl, the president of the local Hansberry Garden and Nature Center. She is passionate about including different types of habitat at the elementary, such as meadow and wetland. She also proposes a “wellness trail” and an interactive sculpture. Perhaps the most interesting idea to come out of the presentation is that of a “trash-gobbling monster,” which is a trash can that would make it fun to toss out refuse.

Sources: Vicki Mehl, Dennis Barnebey, Michael Hickman, and Maurice Jones
Writer: Andy Sharpe

Sketches courtesy of the Community Design Collaborative
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