Students, parents and elected officials gathered this week at George Leland Elementary School for a groundbreaking celebration and the unveiling of a $1.5 million construction plan to transform the West side school yard into an outdoor learning environment and garden.
The project is part of the Space to Grow: Greening Chicago Schoolyards initiative, a partnership led by Openlands and Healthy Schools Campaign to turn Chicago schoolyards into student and community centers for outdoor learning, play and engagement with nature, said Gerald Adelmann, president and CEO of Openlands.
Leland Elementary is one of four Space to Grow pilot schools that will begin construction in July, he said.
Nature is a part of life that everyone should have access to within their neighborhood, Adelmann said.
“It’s a learning landscape,” he said. “It’s a place where kids can not only learn but play. It’s also creating habitat for birds and improving the quality of life in the community in so many ways.”
The project won’t just help students; it will also help the community by limiting flooding in the area, which Adelmann said is a major problem in the neighborhood.
“It’s also a place that’s going to trap water in and out, so that basements won’t flood, and that’s very significant,” he said.
The school yard will include a new park, track field, and a butterfly, rain and vegetable garden for learning, said Jaime Zaplatosch, education director for Openlands.
“There’s a lot of research that shows that physical activity and just being outside helps you learn inside,” Zaplatosch said. “So even if it’s just play during recess time, it actually helps back in the classroom to maintain the focus.”
The school yard was designed to keep the noisy play separate from the learning environment, along with age- and level-based activities. The yard will also include signs and information about the water collected from rainfall and where it will go, Zaplatosch said.
Rep. La Shawn K. Ford (D-Chicago) said the community deserves such a project and will benefit greatly from it.
“Anytime you spend capital in an area that has been neglected for a long period of time, it’s a good thing,” Ford said. “It provides an increase in property value, community safety and beautification. Taxpayers deserve this, they deserve to have more.”
Ald. Deborah Graham (29th) said the various aspects of the project strengthen the community and assist with healthy living.
“A project that captures the rain waters and reuses that helps us to become a sustainable community,” Graham said. “We’re going to learn together how to change the environment, to be a more sustainable community, to reuse our resources, to have a healthier environment.”
The project will be completed in October when planting on the school grounds will begin, Adelmann said.