Next steps?

What’s next in greening our schoolyard?  Starting work in the garden!

After a few presentations and meetings over the past couple of weeks, we have a green light from the school and district to move ahead with garden improvements. Teachers are excited, school leadership is supportive, and the district is behind us as long as we can maintain the space and don’t run afoul of district maintenance crews. I’ll be reaching out again soon about stages and planning for garden improvements.

Thank you, Endolyne Joe’s, for supporting our learning garden with a fundraiser today!

Playground Grant De-Brief

As I’ve posted elsewhere, we did not get a Neighborhood Matching Fund (NMF) grant for playground design work in this round of funding. A group of us, including Gretchen DeDecker from the school district (SPS), met last Thursday to de-brief and talk about next steps.

In short, the City was not clear if 1) we as a community had thoroughly reviewed our 2006 conceptual site master plan (a former NMF investment) and whether it still has relevance today vis-à-vis our current vision, and whether 2) there was adequate school-district partnership in grounds maintenance, and if the City was being asked to fund work resulting from deferred maintenance at the school (playfield, irrigation, gardens, etc.).

We had indeed reviewed the 2006 master plan prior to applying, and we went over it together again at our meeting on Thursday. Here is a copy marked up with what was accomplished (a lot)—and not pursued—from that plan, and here is a copy of the community’s priorities at that time, also marked up.

Otherwise, we will accept some lessons learned about framing our vision and will find the silver lining in not getting the grant: that we may have more bandwidth to work on the garden this year and more time as a community to consider our options in the playground.

Moving Ahead

From our Thursday discussion, these are our next steps:

  1. Learning garden / outdoor classroom. Forge ahead!
  2. Playground. Break it down and consider options for:
  • Current playfield. This is the area that needs the most obvious help. See below for some SPS background and perspective on school playfields.
  • Smaller play structure. This structure is 25+ years old and not ADA compliant. It may have 3-5 useful years left before needing replacement, per SPS. Given the cost and timeframe for fundraising and implementation, we could start now to explore options for its replacement.
  • Other, smaller projects. Plant trees on the hillside next to amphitheater to provide shade? Install rain barrels and planters at the portables to provide growing things and water systems learning for the kids? Re-paint our fading Gatewood signs at the corners on Fauntleroy? Pull that darn ivy?


SPS provided this background and food for thought about school playfields:

  • For water conservation and due to budget constraints, only scheduled/competitive playfields are regularly irrigated by SPS (i.e. those at middle and high schools).
  • At elementary schools, irrigation is provided for the first two years after seeding/renovating a playfield. After that, fields are mowed and occasionally (not regularly) aerated and reseeded.
  • Renovating a grass playfield costs $50-100k.
  • Our irrigation system at Gatewood is completely broken, so any grass renovation would require a new irrigation system as well (to be included as a project cost of field renovation).
  • Playfields should not be used by students during wet weather, as they get torn up fast, which limits usage October-April.
  • Dogs should be kept off the fields, as they also tear them up. Hmm.
  • Given all this, our SPS rep is not fond of playfields in general at elementary schools, because heavy foot traffic and scant maintenance means they can’t be kept in decent condition for long. Some elementaries have reduced the size of their fields by adding edges for other activities (tracks, natural areas, rain gardens, council circles:  some photos here), but the remaining grass is still a challenge to maintain.
  • When I asked why West Woodlands Elementary in north Seattle seemed to have such a lush green playfield in the middle of the summer, SPS explained that West Woodlands was one of the schools that had a ground source heat pump installed in their playfield, and so the district renovated their playfield for them after installation and is still irrigating. She said she’d check to see if Gatewood was by chance on the list for having a heat pump installed in the future.

We will hear from SPS on that last point and consider our options from there.

Ultimately, though, “the field” can be something more or completely different than what we have now, and there may be solutions for a more resilient grassy area over time, so let’s think creatively.


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