Kelly Elementary greening-overhaul efforts move into fundraising phase

After nearly a year of meetings and planning sessions, Hansberry Garden and Nature Center board member Dennis Barnebey, the leader of an ambitious project to overhaul the grounds of the John B. Kelly Elementary School, is ready to announce a new phase for the “Kelly Green” initiative.

A $60,000 service grant from Philadelphia’s Community Design Collaborative has enabled a task force of HGNC leaders, Kelly school staff, community members and professional landscape architects to produce an official report on plans to improve the school’s spacious but barren grounds.

After several months of sessions with the task force and participating architects, Philadelphia’s Center for Architecture hosted a daylong charrette last May, producing tangible plans for the grounds’ improvement, including better play space for Kelly’s kids and several eco-friendly initiatives at the Germantown school.

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Though the project was taking definite shape, it still lacked funding, and Barnebey didn’t want to approach possible donors without an official budget and plan.

“It’s a lot about networking and making connections,” he said this week of the funding process. “But I’ve been hesitant to do it until we had something in hand.”

Now that a “very professionally done” official report is in, that’s changed.

The budget breakdowns — pointing to potential costs approaching $1 million — are a bit “scary.” The planners’ goal is to “break it into pieces that are sellable, and doable, over the course of the next year or two.”

Barnebey and his team are beginning the work of finding donors.

Interest from potential partners, including Recycle Bank and the Delaware Valley Green Building Council, is already materializing.

The task force also invited volunteers with grant-writing experience to help with this phase of the project.

Keeping interest stoked

In the meantime, there is a lot to do to keep the project visible to the local community and the school district at large.

Barnebey lauded the school district support thus far, but noted that the school-closure proposal has made it difficult to get through with any other message.

However, a few ideas for student and community involvement in the project are already afoot, including the possibility of kicking off the actual improvements this spring with a wildflower field or a rain garden.

They want to “get a banner up and let people know that this is on the charts, and here’s our first step,” Barnebey said.

One way to do this would be to revive a former Kelly School partnership with the Penn State Master Gardeners, a volunteer group trained by the Penn State Cooperative Extension.

Excitement at the school

Kelly School teachers and Principal Fatima Rogers are enthusiastic about keeping the greater messages of the venture alive for their students, with activities focused on reducing litter and taking good care of the neighborhood environment.

According to Barnebey, the ultimate goal is “to help kids think differently about where they go to school and where they live, and to become partners, engaged to make something happen.”

The Kelly Green team has one more session with the project’s architects, who will formally present the plan to the task force, school staffers and interested parents and community members at 4 p.m. Jan. 16 at the Pulaski Avenue school.

“I’m hopeful that we’re going to grab people’s imaginations,” Barnebey said, “and their dollars.”

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