School appeared to be in session last Thursday evening as community members of all ages used maps, Post-it notes, scissors, Sharpie markers and tape to envision the future of the schoolyard at Memphis Street Academy, 2950 Memphis St.
Four tables of about 30 Memphis Street Academy students and teachers and Port Richmond residents, led by Temple University student facilitators, collaborated on the redesign activity, which focused on incorporating recreational space and green stormwater infrastructure.
The meeting was held by Temple University Center for Sustainable Communities, in partnership with New Kensington Community Development Corporation. The project, which will culminate in a professionally designed conceptual plan for the site, is being funded by a $60,000 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Urban Waters Small Grant.
Other sites that are being examined as part of the grant are Eugenio Maria de Hostos Charter School, 6301 N. 2nd St., and vacant lots at 6th and Diamond streets.
Lynn Mandarano, associate professor of Temple University’s Department of Community and Regional Planning and research fellow for Temple University Center for Sustainable Communities, gave a brief presentation about stormwater management before the group activity commenced.
Stormwater management concepts and recreational ideas that could potentially be included in the plan for the schoolyard were basketball courts with porous pavement, tree trenches, a green roof, rainwater cisterns, stormwater bumpouts, flower beds, vegetable gardens and a rainwater garden, according to Mandarano.
Participants wrote down their individual ideas for the project and then shared their visions with one of four groups.
Lindsey McNeil, a seventh-grade special education teacher at Memphis Street Academy, was the representative for Group B during the presentations after the group activity.
The four main themes for Group B were colorful, green, inviting and recreational. The themes would be applied to the redesign through gardens, more coverage for students by the building, a half-sized basketball court, a rain garden, picnic tables, a mural on the school building wall, and more trees and flowers.
“I loved [the activity],” McNeil said. “I liked that there was a gathering of ideas from the community and students. Hopefully, we can include a lot of the different aspects presented. The kids need it and really deserve it.”
The other three groups presented similar designs, with Group C suggesting possibly the most eccentric idea: adding a roof-top lazy river.
Memphis Street resident and Group C participant Mike Trombetta raised the question of whether or not the schoolyard would be accessible to the public after the completion of the project.
A definitive answer was not given, but the schoolyard is currently locked before and after school hours due to liability issues.
Christine Borelli, chief executive officer of Memphis Street Academy, is excited for the positive impact a new schoolyard will have on the students.
“I want it to be a place that’s good for the environment,” Borelli said. “But having the kids participate in making the schoolyard something that’s really their own is going to bring a sense of pride to the school that the kids deserve. I want kids to walk onto this campus and feel like it’s inviting and a place that they own.”
Students from Memphis Street Academy’s Sustainability Club had a separate meeting at the end of February with Michaela Allwine, Temple University community partner and NKCDC Block Program coordinator.
The meeting featured an interactive stormwater management program; the students’ observations and feedback were presented at Thursday’s meeting and will be incorporated into the conceptual site plan.
Terri Hernandez, a sixth-grade student at Memphis Street Academy, was a participant in Group B at the design meeting.
“I thought the meeting was very creative and I’m excited to make our school creative,” Hernandez said. “I want to see kids socializing and playing and talking in the schoolyard. I want more trees and benches for hang-out areas.”
After the group activity and presentations, all participants completed a survey. Each participant was asked to vote for his or her favorite design and list favorite individual elements from each group’s design.
Mahbubur Meenar, assistant director of Temple University’s Center for Sustainable Communities, estimated that a site plan based on all four designs would be available to the public in a couple of months. Voting results would be revealed once the plan was complete.
The grant does not cover the actual construction of the new schoolyard; the Center for Sustainable Communities, NKCDC and Memphis Street Academy would need to apply for additional grants for that process, according to Meenar.
For updates about the redesign plan for Memphis Street Academy Schoolyard, visit phillygreendesign.wordpress.com/.