Effort to ‘green’ the grounds of Kelly Elementary formulating ideas, seeking funds

Dennis Barnebey, board member of the Hansberry Garden and Nature Center, is also the leader of an ongoing improvement initiative on the grounds of Germantown’s John B. Kelly Elementary School.

The project’s ultimate focus is on “greening” the grass-and-concrete expanse that has been empty throughout the school’s four-decade history.

“It’s such a big space, so people are thinking of lots of different things,” he said this week of the Kelly Green Task Force, which is comprised of Hansberry Garden members, school staffers and other community partners.

Early brainstorming

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The ideas circulating as part of the ongoing planning process, which was made possible by a Community Design Collaborative (CDC) grant, include a performance space, eco-friendly power or water sources, outdoor teaching spaces and an educational garden.

“The kids want trees because the sun’s so hot,” Barnebey noted. “Everyone is anxious to see a really healthy play-space for the kids. That’s the bottom line.

“Whatever happens in the greening effort, whether it’s solar or rain-barrels or porous concrete, it needs to be explained to the kids so it’s all part of an educational process.”

Since launching the initiative early this year, task-force members have taken ideas from parents and students. They have also invited participation from students of the Charter High School for Architecture and Design (CHAD), where Hansberry Garden board President Victoria Mehl is a faculty member.

Barnebey lauded the poise of some of Kelly’s young students, who toured the grounds with the Task Force earlier this spring.

“We were all very impressed with their willingness to participate,” he said. “They weren’t shy about putting their hands up and putting their ideas in. They felt like ‘I’m part of this too,’ and had some things to say.”

Seeking funding

While funding to turn the final design into reality has yet to materialize, the task force is focusing on the “Transforming Urban Schoolyards” daylong charrette on May 10 at the Center for Architecture (1218 Arch St.)

During that intensive architectural design session, two separate teams of professional landscape architects, community members, school district representatives and students from Kelly and CHAD will work to create a design for the new school grounds.

Community members are invited to see the team’s proposals at a special presentation from 4 to 6 p.m. Barnebey said he hopes that event will help identify possible donors.

“That’s the point at which we’re hoping some of the powers-that-be will be present,” he said. “We’re hoping to get a number of people from the school community and the neighborhood in general to come show the enthusiasm and excitement for this.”

Barnebey predicted funding will not be a single donation or grant, but different local organizations might take interest and chip in.

A “fun” process

He conceded that the road to completion of the project may be a long one, but that the work is worthwhile.

“It’s a lot of fun because everyone’s on board with it,” he said. “The biggest challenge is finding time for people whose days are already full, especially now since the school district is so short-staffed and working so hard to keep their heads above water. Everyone agrees it’s worth doing, it’s just being able to fit it in. … It’s become a conversation about open space in the neighborhood that’s been very constructive.”

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