Anonymous gift advances South Portland High School courtyard improvements

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SOUTH PORTLAND — A $10,000 donation will make it possible to start building two outdoor classrooms in the South Portland High School courtyard.

The funding donated anonymously through Portland Trails was accepted at an April 10 School Board meeting. 

Additions and renovations made during a $47.3 million project completed in January 2015 at the high school included the large, outdoor courtyard. However, the space was left unfinished, with crushed rock and ground cover and a few benches.

Tania Ferrante, an English and ecology teacher in the learning alternative program who also leads the sustainability committee, said the South Portland High School Courtyard Project has raised about $50,000. She said the group would like to begin construction this summer after going out to bid in mid to late May. She also said students will likely do some of the work, such as building garden beds.

The original goal was to raise $70,000 to $100,000, but Ferrante said the group is making the project work with the $20,000 they have raised – including the recent donation – and $30,000 in surplus school funds that have been allocated.  

The courtyard project and a greenhouse were originally funded during the renovation project, but were later cut because of increased construction costs.

Before the reconstruction, the school had a greenhouse, and gardens on Highland Avenue. The students took care of eight beds, with produce served in the cafeteria and donated to Ronald McDonald House. 

The South Portland High School Courtyard Project kicked off in 2015 with a survey of more than 600 students and staff members for input on how the courtyard should be used. Students and staff said they want an outdoor green space that is both practical and beautiful.

Ferrante said the courtyard plan includes low-maintenance foliage such as birch trees, hosta and ferns, and a garden with produce that could include carrots, tomatoes, radishes and beans. Ferrante wants to introduce students to foods they may not have tried, such as parsnips and kale, and said the students could also learn to prepare some of these foods in the school’s food nutrition classes.  

A gazebo or pergola would also be built in the outdoor space to provide shade and seating for 25-30 students.

A core group of 10 students and 10 staff have been working on the project and have been meeting once a month, although at times there have been 30 students working on the courtyard design.

Ferrante said she believes the courtyard would be enjoyed by many and helpful for learning – some examples would be science classes about sustainability, biodiversity or plant ecology; music performances, art and sculpture; and English, health and culinary arts.

The courtyard group hopes to have two classrooms using the space at any given time. Student organizations are also expected to take advantage of the space.

“I feel like it is an open canvas for student groups who want to promote their mission,” Ferrante said, including a student civil rights group that is interested in doing some installations in the courtyard where students can promote their visions.

The project has its own website at https://goo.gl/afuBLM and a Facebook page at https://goo.gl/BnGIjJ. To volunteer or  donate, contact Ferrante at FerranTa@spsd.org.

 Melanie Sochan can be reached at 781-3661 ext.106 or msochan@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @melaniesochan.

The South Portland High School courtyard, which was left unfinished because of cost increases during the school’s two-year renovation project.

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