Greening MPS, literally
May 28, 2009
By Jay Bullock
And greening has become a trend. Everywhere you look, someone is selling you something more environmentally friendly or less energy dependent than it used to be.
The Milwaukee Public Schools, too, are greening, both in the metaphorical sense-with energy audits and new conservation measures-and in the literal sense.
If you’ve been past Humboldt Park School recently, you know what I’m talking about. The school replaced about a third of its playground blacktop with grass and more than two dozen trees.
The greening is part of a grant involving 10 schools across the district, according to Gina Spang, MPS director of facilities and maintenance. The grant is funded with foundation dollars and support from the U.S. Forestry Service. Humboldt Park had help from a variety of other nonprofits, from the Urban Ecology Center to Greening Milwaukee’s Adopt-a-Tree program.
Most participating schools will have their renovations finished over the summer or early fall. Humboldt Park is much closer to being finished already, with the final element, a rain garden, to be installed later this month.
Jane Suminski, Humboldt Park’s middle school science teacher, said the school worked with MPS and the city of Milwaukee for a year to get selected as a site for renovation. This included committing some school funds, a bit less than $6,000, to the project.
Tom Kraft, assistant principal at Humboldt Park, said the school was in a much better position to contribute funds than some other schools. Humboldt was able to tap funds from its charter grant, given by the state of Wisconsin.
They’ve also been fundraising to finish paying for the rain garden, including a grant from Groundwork Milwaukee. “We’re still $2,000 short,” Suminski said. “Hopefully by the time the plants are here, we’ll have what we need.”
Suminski described how the rain garden, to be located on the school’s south side, will also be an outdoor classroom. Students will be able to study the plants, all native to this area, and use them as food and fabric dyes.
Spang added that most of the schools involved in the grant are using the green space that way, to integrate sustainability and rainwater studies into their curriculum.
The renovation did raise some concern among Humboldt Park’s neighbors, according to Suminski and Kraft. Kraft said around 20 neighbors called the school. “Not that they were angry,” he said, “but they wanted to know why.” Suminski added that they also asked about how their taxes might be affected.
Spang said that, in general, asphalt is cheaper to maintain than grass, and schools need blacktop. “A hard surface is necessary to an extent,” she said, “because it will stand up better than grass in the spring and fall, through the rainy season and the thaw.”
However, Spang said, MPS makes an effort to reduce asphalt and increase soft surface and green space as part of normal playground renovation. “The general direction of the district is toward more green space,” she said.
Suminski is glad to have the green space at Humboldt Park, for the benefit of the students. “They’re excited to sit on the grass,” she said.
And I’m excited for them: Grass is good for kids, and the more of it they can be around, the better.
It almost makes it worth using green as a verb.
Jay Bullock is an English teacher at Bay View High School who blogs at folkbum.com. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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