Within the next few years, the schoolyard at Horatio B. Hackett Elementary School will no longer be known as a sea of asphalt, but rather as an educational landmark filled with greens and opportunities the entire community can enjoy.
The efforts stem from the combined work to revitalize the schoolyard from the School District of Philadelphia, Friends of Horatio B. Hackett Elementary School, the Philadelphia Water Department (PWD), the Community Design Collaborative (CDC) and the New Kensington Community Development Corporation (NKCDC).
Initiatives to introduce stormwater strategies and learning opportunities for children have been made into a conceptual design by the Collaborative, leading the way for the $1.6 million project.
One of around 722 communities across the nation, the city of Philadelphia uses a combined sewer system that typically keeps stormwater runoff and sewage separate. During heavy rainfalls, the case isn’t always as such when enough water is produced to fill sewage systems and overflow rivers where drinking water comes from. To combat the mixture of unwanted runoff, PWD launched a plan to create green stormwater infrastructure by installing rain gardens, below-ground water retention basins and porous pavements.
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“Rain gardens are one of the simplest and most effective ways to ‘green’ your landscape and manage stormwater,” PWD Policy Analyst Helaine Barr said. “They are typically shallow, planted depressions that absorb stormwater that flows from a roof, yard or street, allowing it to drain directly into the soil.”
Below-ground water retention basins may be placed under porous paving, typically made of stones, bricks or mixture of porous concrete or asphalt, to hold stormwater as it infiltrates.
But stormwater infrastructure is just one of eight phases the revitalization project includes. Play and fitness equipment, shade trees, gardens, sculptures, murals, outdoor classroom seating and additional amenities will also be put together.
“Hackett is unique in the sense that they have an acre of land in the middle of the city,” Friends of Hackett President Allison Dean said. “It’s huge in comparison to most Philly schoolyards. They have a lot of area to really grow and change.”
With a large number of special needs children attending Hackett, the project will also include a variety of amenities to cater their needs, including specialized swings, tactile surfaces at wheelchair height and wide walkways and ramps.
“Our teachers are very excited to work with the students, to have an area outside and be able to extend the curriculum,” Hackett Principal Randi Davila said.
And Hackett isn’t only open to its students, it’s open to the community at large.
“I think it’s great,” said Dean, the mother of a 2-year-old and 3-week-old boy. “There are limited green parks within our walking abilities and it’s just going to be really great for them to have a huge green space in the middle of the city where they can run and play and climb.”
In September 2013, Hackett and about 150 community members made a collaborative effort to jumpstart the project by cleaning, weeding and repainting parts of the schoolyard. Their effort received nine nominations and was ultimately chosen as the community favorite to win the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) Malcolm Lewis Volunteer IMPACT! Award, recognizing a nationally high-impact and volunteer-driven project.
“It just shows the investment and what people in the area are willing to do to come together,” Davila said. “We’re in it for the long-run and we have high expectations for what the finished schoolyard will be.”
– Text, images and video by Shauna Bannan.