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Students put elbow grease into courtyard space

Students at Elmira District Secondary School can kick up their heels and relax in a new green space/patio area in the courtyard, one they built themselves.

The school has been a bit noisier this past week as students used hammers and electric saws to construct a recreation area with handmade tables and chairs and a stone patio in a space that was once practically ignored.

Student Nikki Hartwick and teacher Barb Gaudet display the plan for the final product, to be completed in a couple of years.
Student Nikki Hartwick and teacher Barb Gaudet display the plan for the final product, to be completed in a couple of years.

“The courtyard was overgrown and underused,” said teacher Barb Gaudet of the revamped space. “The students are working now on beautifying the area and making better use of it. It’s a great resource, so we’re hoping that once it gets a makeover, students will want to spend time there.”

Gaudet teaches environmental science at the high school and saw this project as an opportunity to combine several core values of the class.

“Creating a green space where students can hang out is very much in line with the environmental goals of the course, and by building it themselves the students are getting real hands-on work experience that will help them later.”

The project was designed as a multi-year endeavor – this year’s class has completed phase one of the project that includes a brick patio and a number of tables and chairs for students to use on their lunch hour and during breaks. In subsequent years, the plan for the area includes garden landscaping, more trees and perhaps even a stage area for outdoor concerts.

Gaudet said creating a space to call their own was an idea that really caught the attention of some of her students.

“There is a core group of students who are super enthusiastic about the project,” she noted. “There are students who are not even in my class who have been coming out to help in their spare time. It has been really neat to see.”

The courtyard is about the size of three or four classrooms and is only accessible by going through the school. Despite being inaccessible to the public, Gaudet said that the amount of community support has been extraordinary.

“We talked to people around town and we got a lot of donations in kind,” she explained. “Many of the items we used in the construction, from the gravel, to the stone slabs which we are using as table tops, to the wood chips and logs, have all been generously donated from businesses around town.”

The remainder of the funding for the project came from a Township of Woolwich Environmental Enhancement Committee (TWEEC) grant for $1,000 and support from the school itself.

Mark Schwarz of Earthscape, a Floradale-based company that combines engineering and gardening to design green spaces, worked with the students to create a landscape design which would meet the needs of the class.

Schwarz helped students measure the courtyard, and draft rough sketches as to what they would like the space to look like and was on-site to help with the construction throughout the duration of the project.
Students have spent the better part of the week digging out dirt, carrying in gravel, placing the bricks and woodchips and constructing the wooden tables, and their hard work has paid off as the area is ready for student use.

“Overall, the response to the project has been very positive. I am looking forward to continuing to build upon what we have started here,” Gaudet said.

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