Frankford Friends is planning the construction of a “natural playscape” outdoor classroom on the vacant lot across the street from the school. The outdoor classroom will be a natural green space where children can play, explore, and be surrounded by growing things: native plants and trees, fruit and vegetable gardens, and urban wildlife like birds, salamanders, and butterflies.
“Those of us who love working with children in nature have a favorite saying,” explained the school’s Principal, Penny Colgan-Davis. “‘If we want our children to grow up protecting the natural environment, they must learn to love it, and in order to learn to love it, they must spend plenty of time in it.’ This space will afford FFS students and, hopefully, neighborhood children lots and lots of time falling in love with nature.”
The outdoor classroom will have raised bed gardens where students and their families can grow food. Funds permitting, the outdoor classroom will be open to neighborhood families for gardening and play on weekends and in the summer.
The school will receive a storm water management design for the outdoor classroom and the entire campus through a “Growing Greener” grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, helping to reduce the load on the city’s combined sewer system and protecting the watershed. Green storm water infrastructure will serve as a field and laboratory tool for classes and a demonstration opportunity for the neighborhood.
The old stone Central United Methodist Church once stood at the corner of Penn and Orthodox Streets where the vacant lot is located. It was undermined by a leaking window and one wall of the church began to crumble. The deteriorating wall was a safety hazard, and the nonprofit that owned the church did not have the resources to repair it so in September, 2011, the building was demolished by the City of Philadelphia.
The vacant lot that remains which is nearly half an acre in size, will be transformed into the outdoor classroom. With the support of Councilwoman Maria Quiñones-Sánchez and her staff, who worked to facilitate the forgiveness of several liens, the property was donated to Frankford Friends Meeting for the use of the school. “I cannot think of a more appropriate re-purposing of this space,” commented Councilwoman Quiñones-Sánchez. “It will be become an inter-generational learning green space in Frankford.”
Students at the school helped imagine the design, drawing maps and writing about their ideas. In addition to gardens and space for exploration, learning, and play, the design includes places for digging in the dirt, water play, music, and art. Volunteers will plant trees and native perennials, build simple wooden structures, and seed a pollinator meadow. Interpretive signage will explain the storm water management features to students and visitors.
In addition to the PADEP’s Growing Greener program, the project has received generous support from the Tyson Memorial Fund, the Connelly Foundation, the William B. Dietrich Foundation, and a number of private donors. More than $100,000 has been raised. The school continues to seek donations to close a final $20,000 budget gap.
Groundbreaking is projected to be sometime in the Spring.