2019-02-08 / Front Page

Courtyard undergoes transformation

By Anna Schaeffer
Contributing Writer

SOUTH PORTLAND – Improvements are underway for the courtyard at South Portland High School. Ecology teacher Tania Ferrante, as well as a host of teachers, student groups and landscape architects, have been instrumental in transforming the space into a multi-experiential area for students and teachers alike.

Ferrante said that conception of an inschool green space came to her shortly after South Portland High School was renovated in 2015. Ferrante kept a small, personal produce garden at the front of the original building but had to abandon it once construction began. When renovations on the school were complete, what she called a vacant lot sat in the middle of the school. Improvements on the space seemed obvious. Ferrante said she hopes the area, once completely renovated, will be able to provide students and staff with a “Multi-educational area for meditation, gardening, workshops and more.”

Though still incomplete, Ferrante said progress so far has been satisfying to see from her classroom, which faces the courtyard.

“At first it was completely bare, but as we started working and after the summer came we started seeing birds there and grass growing, it’s been really nice to see,” she added.

The changes the space has already undergone is significant, thanks to several grants awarded to the school from the South Portland-Cape Elizabeth Rotary Club, South Portland Conservation Commission and extensive fundraising. So far, a rain garden has been installed, and several trees were planted by Ferrante with the help of her ecology class and the SPHS Sustainability Club. This fall, the Creative Earth Team decorated the courtyard with painted pumpkins for Halloween. In addition, the Seeds of Peace student group and students from Learning Alternatives completed the Yellow Tulip Project, by planting 300 bulbs that will be in bloom this spring.

The Yellow Tulip Project is a campaign aimed at raising awareness for mental health and reducing the stigma that surrounds it. Portland landscape planner Catherine Callahan and Fred Dillon, South Portland Stormwater Coordinator, hosted short training programs for students on the impact of biodiversity and natural gardening features for indigenous plants. Changes and upcoming plans for the courtyard are updated through its Facebook page.

Tom Hyland, a learning alternatives teacher at South Portland High said he is proud to see the courtyard develop.

“I’m happy to work on this project with a team of committed educators,” he said.

One of the greatest challenges with the new courtyard, Ferrante said, is its location in the school. The lot was built “In the heart of the school” with no outside access for vehicles, construction equipment or professional workers to easily enter it. Tony Lombardo, facilities director for South Portland High School, is credited with engineering ways around this obstacle. Difficulties arose from changes in administration, and processing due to the gradual nature of the courtyard’s construction as well as seasonal and funding constraints.

Despite growing pains, Ferrante said that she as well as the students are excited to see their hard work blossom.

“I think the most important part is giving the kids an opportunity to take ownership of improving a space and giving them this experimental, hands-on kind of learning,” she added.

Ferrante said she hopes the courtyard will have a similar effect on the school as urban green spaces such as parks and gardens. Green spaces in cities have been shown to have a positive effect on the mental and physical wellbeing of neighborhood residents as well as improving the local sense of community.

“I think it will be nice to see (the courtyard) evolve over time as students work on it and it grows and develops,” Ferrante said.

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