They are bringing back a little bit of paradise at St. John Chrysostom Catholic Elementary School in Newmarket.
The school’s kindergarten area is being transformed from a dry swath of faded grey concrete into a green oasis with trees, plants, mulch and natural log seating areas.
The prybars and shovels were wielded last Thursday as the depaving project got underway with a community event that would have delighted musical artist Joni Mitchell, who, in her '70s song, Big Yellow Taxi, bemoaned, “Don't it always seem to go, That you don't know what you've got till it’s gone, They paved paradise, And put up a parking lot.”
More than 100 teachers, students and parents joined with Windfall Ecology Centre, the York Catholic District School Board, Evergreen and other community partners to remove more than 500 square-feet of pavement in the fenced-in yard at the side of the school at 800 Joe Persechini Dr.
Newmarket Mayor John Taylor, who rolled up his sleeves to remove several pieces of concrete, lauded the visible “community spirit and excitement and energy” and partnerships, including the Lions Club and Windfall — “the environmental leader in our community” — behind the project.
“We’ve got a serious challenge on our hands as a community, as a country, as a world, which is climate change. You’re taking up and showing the community in a visible way that you’re ready to do your part,” he told the gathering.
“Every school, every home, every town, every country has to do their part if we’re going to meet this challenge,” Taylor said, adding that the York Catholic school board “has always been a leader environmentally and continues to step up and embrace these opportunities.”
The naturalized kindergarten area, created by greening and design Evergreen consultant Robert Cram, will feature three native trees, native plants, flowers and edible plants in raised garden beds, mulch, two natural log seating areas and log stepping posts for students.
“The hope is to encourage butterflies and insects to these gardens, as well as increase students’ knowledge about where their food comes from and how to take care of the environment," Cram said.
The seating areas can be used by teachers as a gathering place for lessons, stories, sharing and play.
“As we all know, outdoor play is an integral part of child development. Depaving our kindergarten yard will provide students with a new and more natural area of play,” said Sulinda Cerqueti, principal of St. John Chrysostom CES. “Providing the students with this new area will undoubtedly excite the students and have them engage in play and social development on many new levels.”
She acknowledged teacher-librarian Shelby Totten, who applied for the TD Friends of the Environment grant that is funding the project, administered by Aurora-based Windfall Ecology Centre.
“Without her, this wouldn’t be possible,” Cerqueti said.
In addition to increasing greenspace and natural environment at the school, the trees and the permeable surface will benefit local bodies of water, according to Andrea Fallone, depave coordinator at Windfall Ecology Centre.
With the increased number of hardened surfaces in urban areas, like driveways, parking lots and schoolyards, the natural water cycle becomes disrupted and stormwater is prevented from infiltrating into the ground.
“So this project will not only create a beautiful, greener, more environmentally friendly and comfortable environment for the students to play in, we’re also protecting the water,” said Jen Atkinson, managing director at Windfall, of this fifth depaving project for the ecology centre.
“When we remove the pavement — the hard surfaces — we’re allowing the rainwater and other water to soak back into the ground, which filters and recharges.”
While native trees help to absorb and filter rainwater runoff, they also increase our urban tree canopy, reducing the “heat island effect” within the schoolyard and providing shade for students. Native trees and pollinator plants also promote biodiversity and provide wildlife habitat for urban animals and pollinators.
The St. John Chrysostom CES depave and naturalization project would not be possible without funding from TD Friends of the Environment Foundation and the Ontario Trillium Foundation, said Cerqueti.
The collaborative project includes St. John Chrysostom CES, the York Catholic District School Board, Evergreen, and Windfall Ecology Centre, in partnership with Depave Paradise, Green Communities Canada, York Region, the North Newmarket Lions Club, Made Good Foods, and Earthbound Trees.