Enthusiastic response at Kelly Elementary greening-plan unveiling event

Leaders of an initiative to transform the John B. Kelly Elementary School’s grounds in Germantown unveiled details of the plan on Wednesday.

Addressing numerous project leaders and members of the Kelly School and adjoining communities, landscape architect Suzanna Fabry presented the final composite design plan for the school’s grounds, which occupies almost an entire square block along Pulaski Avenue, serving approximately 800 students.

Fabry, a member of a design team funded by a $60,000 service grant from Philadelphia’s Community Design Collaborative, said that a primary goal was to incorporate a theme of wellness, along with outlets for gardening and performance.

Physical and environmental fitness

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A path beside the school would allow for recreation, serve as a lead-in to a rain garden and direct people to a new ADA-complaint entrance on Morris Street.

In Fabry’s words, it would create a “more open and inviting” entryway into the school, encouraging users to reexamine their relationship to the school’s site.

“We’re going to create a healthier landscape and healthier human beings,” she said.

To reinforce this, wellness stations like chin-up bars would be included along the path, with climbing and play equipment for students currently bereft of such apparatus. A basketball court would also be included.

Other outdoor amenities include an orchard to complement the planned rain garden, and the inclusion of an outdoor classroom with seating. Designers also suggested a meadow. Completing the environmentally sound redesign would be a green roof and solar panels.

Neighbor suggestions heard

Responding to community requests, an outdoor stage will be included as part of the design, providing students with a space to demonstrate their talents during the school day and for outside groups to use during non-school hours.

Bumpouts along Pulaski would calm traffic and serve as a possible area for stormwater collection while retaining space for three school buses.

The existing parking lot along Hansberry Street would be regraded and possibly walled-in.

But how to pay for it all?

With key design elements in place, project leaders turn their attention to the critical aspect of fundraising.

While costs for the entire project are estimated at being more than $1 million, Fabry suggested that breaking fundraising into component features would allow funders to support specific aspects of the plan.

Moreover, many aspects of the design are independent from one another, and can be completed in phases.

“It’s not necessary to build ‘A’ before ‘B,'” she said.

Fundraising efforts

Dennis Barnebey, Hansberry Garden and Nature Center board member and leader of the Kelly project, outlined a number of the institutions and organizations that he has contacted and one he hopes to approach for support of the project, in order to begin work by Spring.

“We are now in a position of putting these things together,” said Barnebey, “and we need to make sure a bunch of us are really committed to following through with this.”

Outlining his marketing plan, Barnebey said the thematic focus was one of improving the health of school children and the community.

To buttress this, Barnebey said he has been in touch with Kelly School administrators and teachers to align the curriculum to make use of the planned upgrades, thereby engaging students.

“Along with exercise and fitness, we’re talking about a place which is meant to get us all healthy, and create a healthier community as a result,” he said.

Well-received plans

Responses at the meeting were enthusiastic.

Sandra Connelly, a resident of neighboring Manheim Street for 32 years, was delighted with the project.

“It’s beautiful, and will be wonderful for the children,” she said.

Erica Siate, a Germantown resident and Kelly School parent, was enthusiastic about the proposal, believing that fundraising would be straightforward.

“I just can’t wait to be put to work,” she said, “because the plans are beautiful and the kids are just dying for it.”

Siate’s daughter Ruby, a kindergartner at the school, spoke to the student’s perspective.

“Well, if we don’t have a playground, how are we going to get strong?” she asked. “How are we going to be healthy?”

Recently appointed Kelly School Principal Christopher Byrd said he appreciated the energy and commitment of the community in being involved with a project at their neighborhood school.

“As we get further into the project, it gets more exciting when you think about the possibilities,” said Byrd. “We’re going to support this 120 percent, because it benefits everybody.”

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