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New garden a step toward sustainable playground

LOMBARD – It all started with some muddy children and an old, rusty drain in the outfield of a baseball diamond.

Now, there’s a major plan in the works to change the playground and grounds at Hammerschmidt Elementary School. The first step was creating an edible garden last week.

“There are lots of drainage issues and we’re constantly battling a lot of mud in the field,” said Andi Cooper, who is leading the Hammerschmidt Learn and Play Gardens project.

Other parts of the school grounds are in need of repair, too, she said. The playground equipment needs to be updated, as do the school bike racks. There’s also a pair of unsightly Dumpsters positioned on one of the highest elevation points of the entire campus.

Cooper said the outside of the school doesn’t match the energy and vibrancy of the inside.

“For me to come here and see the quality of the outside of the school, ‘Guys, we can do better,’” she said.

Cooper is using her professional experience of designing sustainable landscapes to develop a plan for interactive school grounds that offer opportunities for students to learn and play in nature. She also has a second-grader at the school.

Components of the long-range project include new playground equipment, soccer and baseball fields, a walking path, a butterfly garden, an outdoor classroom and more.

“Ultimately, one of the main goals of the project is to connect the curriculum to the outdoors,” said David Danielski, the school’s principal.

More than 100 students and 25 parent volunteers gathered after school on May 10 to prepare six garden beds for the new edible garden. Each grade, kindergarten through fifth, will have its own bed to plant and care for vegetables. The veggies will be planted in classrooms at the school and transferred outside toward the end of the school year.

Materials and supplies for the garden were funded with a grant from FORWARD, a county-based organization working to prevent and reduce childhood obesity.

“(There has been) a lot of excitement, particularly with the students,” Danielski said. “When we solicited volunteers, we had an overwhelming response.”

In the edible garden, students will be planting pumpkins, gourds, lettuce, beans and some herbs. During the summer months, the garden will be tended by volunteer groups and the food that is harvested will either be introduced into the school’s cafeteria for students to sample or donated to a local organization.

Right now, the goal is to generate enough money through grants and fundraisers to begin construction next summer.

“We’re gaining momentum,” Cooper said. “People see that this is really going to happen. When you start with a big dream, it’s still just a big dream.”

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