By Angela Keller-Herzog
“Our school looks like a jail!” says a student.
The schoolyard is bleak, mostly pavement. To make things worse, the majority of trees shading the yard are ash trees and have to be removed because they are infested by the emerald ash borer.
This is Glashan Public School, an Ottawa Carleton District School Board middle school with a present population of almost 400 Grade 7 and 8 students. Glashan students come from the Glebe, Centretown, Lowertown, Sandy Hill and Old Ottawa South. It is located in the heart of Ottawa, at the busy intersection of Catherine and Kent Streets.
The bleak inner-city schoolyard is in marked contrast to the vibrancy of the school and its positive spirit. Glashan prides itself on an ethos of inclusivity, and brings together students from a large catchment area with diverse ethnic and language backgrounds.
The Glashan School Council wants to see renewal and greening of the yard. Principal Jim Tayler, lent fuel to early discussions in the spring of 2013 when he said, “we should develop an overall vision and a plan, not just a fix here and a tree there”. The Glashan Green Team was established by the School Council in September 2013. The school board’s centralized grounds department however, hardly has enough resources to remove the hundreds of dying ash trees on its 140 schoolyards – which will soon become a safety hazard. There is a budget for felling trees…but no budget for replanting or greening. This is left up to parents, communities and the city. This lack of resources for schoolyard greening is not for want of scientific evidence of the community benefits of urban greening and student benefits of schoolyard greening.
Fully on board with the Glashan Greening Project is Jennifer McKenzie, the school board trustee responsible for Glashan, “there is a clear link between green spaces and healthy outdoor activity and student learning”. There is a budget for felling trees…but no budget for replanting or greening. The Glashan Green Team was established by the School Council in September 2013. With the support of Centretown and Glebe Community Associations and City Councillors David Chernushenko, Diane Holmes and Mathieu Fleury, the Green Team has applied to city grant programs. The community network of Ecology Ottawa is supporting the project by lending expertise in naturalization and schoolyard greening. Ecology Ottawa community volunteers will help to water the trees and shrubs throughout the first few summers until plants are well-established. An initial outreach to local businesses generated a seed fund to help with the first phase of planning – positive response from the neighbourhood including a wide range of people from dentists, to jewellers, to engineers.
A class-by-class facilitated consultation took place at the school in late fall. This was led by schoolyard- greening guru, Ann Coffey. Many problems with the yard were identified and many ideas, solutions and proposals for better use of the yard were received. Students are pleased that they were asked. Takeo, a grade 8 student commented, “I hope that with this project the yard is going to get more enjoyable for future generations of students here. I would like to experiment with growing grapes on the fence. I think it is possible in this climate.”
Glashan teachers support the greening project. A teacher and staff survey has just been completed:
• 70% of respondents feel that there is too much pavement in this schoolyard.
• Over 60% feel that noise pollution and air pollution are problems.
• Surprisingly, over 70% also felt that the lack of colour and art was a problem.
• Over 80% support installation of safety and sound barriers.
Safety and excessive noise on the schoolyard are priority problems that the planning process has identified but that may not be easy or cheap to remedy. Consultation inputs will be consolidated by the Green Team. There will be a presentation of a proposed site plan and discussion meeting on January 14 at 6:30 in the school library. A detailed budget and implementation phases will be developed following the finalization of the site plan.
The challenges faced by the schoolyard renewal are formidable. Costs are likely to run over $100,000. The fact that the school board has no resources for schoolyard renewal and greening means that the School Council must raise these resources from the community and foundations. The Green Team has hopes that members of the community will come forward with both financial donations as well as in-kind donations of expertise, services and volunteer time. To realize an overall renewal of the schoolyard will need many kinds of inputs, from contractors for de-paving; landscapers, arborists and nurseries for greening; engineers for addressing safety, noise and water management issues; fundraising and communications expertise and artists for adding colour and art.
If you can help, contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org
Angela Keller-Herzog is Chair of the Green Team of the Glashan School Council.