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Long-fallow East Tech courtyard will spring back to life (video)

east-tech-courtyard CMSD NEWS BUREAU

In the spring of 1991, Ruth Ray and some senior classmates at East Tech High dragged a single bench out into the cavernous square courtyard in the middle of the school so they could take a group picture in front of an iconic metal globe sculpture in the corner.

The bench and the globe – painted Scarab-yellow and a remnant from the original East Tech building – were just about the only things standing in the otherwise barren concrete courtyard on that day more than 20 years ago.

Until recently, things weren’t much different in the mostly unused space at the center of the school.

That’s about to change: Next Thursday, East Tech students will swarm the nearly 7,000-square-foot courtyard on their schoolwide Day of Service. They will arrange the more than three dozen raised garden boxes and a trio of rain barrels into their designated spots and begin filling the boxes with gravel and garden to get ready for planting in a few weeks,

The goal is to turn the courtyard, which can be viewed on all sides from hallway windows of the three-story high school, into not only a green and pleasant space for students to relax or study, but also into a useful working garden for East Tech students studying agriculture and the culinary arts.

Some of the garden areas will be set aside for use by students with mental handicaps or autism, said East Tech Principal Paul Hoover

“What we had was a huge, bleak concrete space that we are turning into a verdant oasis, a living area right at the heart of our school,” Hoover said. “Urban agriculture is big in this community, and this is going to become a bigger part of what we do here.”

The transformation of the area in the center of the school building coincides with the addition of an urban agriculture program at East Tech for the 2014-15 school year, he said.

Ray, who now works for the District in Career Education Services will take a group of students from East Tech and Washington Park Environmental Studies, which already has an agriculture and animal care program, to Columbus for a Future Farmers of America conference as part of the preparation for the opening of the program next school year.  
She works with partner, Nick Digiorgo, another flexible content expert with the STEM programs for CMSD who has led the agricultural work at  George Washington Carver School. Digiorgio also set up a 4H partnership with Ohio State Extension, she said. 
Hoover said a $4,000 donation from Lowe’s was used to buy rain barrels, boxes for raised garden beds and other materials and helped jump-start the project. Since then it has progressed because of a collaboration with the Cleveland Botanical Garden, which designed the garden with student input and agreed to help maintain the site for three years through its Green Corps program, also for CMSD students.

Technical support for the garden planning was also provided by the Rid-All Green Partnership, he said.

On Wednesday afternoon, about two dozen volunteers from City Year Cleveland, which stations young volunteer mentors at East Tech and other CMSD schools, and representatives from the Botanical Garden and Rid-All joined Ray to get a head start on the renovation.

They built 10 large faux-wood flower boxes, primed and painted about 28 existing boxes that were mostly shoved and stacked into the corners of the courtyard and generally cleaned up the area to get ready for the greenery.

The renovation of the courtyard won't actually be completed until summer when students at Max S. Hayes High School, a CMSD career and technical school, build picnic tables, workbenches, a shed and perhaps some arbor structures for the area, Hoover said.

“It’s an ongoing project and one that has really been four years in the making since we first started talking about doing something with the space,” he said.

Botanical Garden experts, who were brought in a few months ago, have designed the layout of the new garden, based in part on input from students, Ray said.
The outdoor lunch space and an outdoor classroom area were added after hearing from the student focus groups, said Julia Ferguson, manager of the Green Corps program. The program teaches urban gardening practices to students.

“Cleveland Botanical Garden is very excited to be a part of this project,” Ferguson said. “Now, if the weather cooperates, we’ll be actually planting there in the next few weeks. That’s when things will get really exciting.”