SOUTH KINGSTOWN – Through the collaboration of South Kingstown High School students and University of Rhode Island landscape architecture seniors, the high school’s landscape may take on a new shape in coming years.
When Andrew Gannon, a senior at South Kingstown High School visited his school in the summer of 2009, he noticed the school’s grass was left uncut and the landscape drab. He wanted to do something about it. Soon after, he enlisted the help of other high school students and created the Habitat for Community, a volunteer group that works to improve the Columbia Street building’s appearance for its students and teachers.
Gannon, who will pursue construction management when he graduates in the spring, met with the maintenance supervisor. Though the maintenance department was initially reluctant to allow students repaint classrooms, Gannon was able to obtain three paint cans for each classroom. With the rest of Habitat for Community, the students repainted the high school’s classrooms with artistic murals. These murals include a picturesque rendering of the human skeleton and musculoskeletal system and a pond ecosystem for the biology classrooms.
From there, Habitat for Community’s vision for the high school only grew.
Last year, social studies teacher Jeffrey Taber met with University of Rhode Island professor and chairman of the Department of Landscape Architecture William Green during the high school’s annual clean up day. Taber hoped for a more organized and planned clean up day. Green told Taber he would be willing to allow his fall URI landscape students to work with the high school to devise five master plans to make the high school’s landscape more sustainable.
The plan was something that would help Habitat for Community achieve its goal of creating a better campus for the high school community.
Each year Green selects a project for his Landscape Architecture Sustainable Design Studio class made up of seniors to get real life experience in the field. In past years, URI students have worked with the new charter school, the Green School to create master plans to improve its landscape and environmental approach.
The URI students held two workshops thus far in November, seeking community input and interest. On Tuesday, Dec. 20 at the high school, the students will present their final plans.
Some of those plans include suggestions for rerouting parking, using the groundwater again, creating an ecosystem and using green roofs. During a workshop held Nov. 9 at the high school, URI students discussed with community members what they valued in terms of grounds of the high school. They discussed creating a sustainable use of rain water, safety concerns around the school, traffic patterns and the possibility of outdoor classrooms.
“[URI students] are a resource for us. They understand the current issues of landscape and beautification. This has been a stimulus for the high school community about those things,” Taber said. “I think all of American society is struggling to decide how concerned we should be with energy use and our personal response.”
With these proposed plans, Taber and Gannon hope they can utilize the ideas to make a better landscape for their school.
“Optimally we’ll use many components over several years. It’s likely we can take visual elements of the designs and implement them,” Taber said.
Taber and Gannon know that some of the projects will require support from the town of South Kingstown and the school committee who control the budgetary considerations for the school. Though McCarthy has been working to enlist the support of the school committee, he said none of it would have been possible without Gannon and Taber.
With URI students working with the high school students, Green said it has been a good collaboration.
“My interest is exposing high school students to a career in landscape architecture,” Green said.
“It’s been a nice marriage between two groups who have an investment in the short term and see the benefit,” South Kingstown High School Principal Robert McCarthy said.
The University students will make their final presentations on re-visualizing the rebels on Tuesday, Dec. 20 at 7:30 p.m. at the South Kingstown High School Library.