Parents, staff members and students at Holmes Elementary formally welcomed a new outdoor learning space, Dec. 7, during a brief ribbon-cutting ceremony. The space features tree log benches and boulder-like seating that can accommodate a classroom, an ADA accessible water table with an infiltration bed, native Illinois prairie grasses that buffer the space from Chicago Avenue and garden beds.
According to former Holmes PTO co-president Sharon Hermanns, the project, which cost an estimated $70,000, is the result of nearly five years of preparation and fundraising. Entities like the Park District of Oak Park donated materials and equipment.
Hermanns noted that, because of the high price tag, the project was subject to the bidding process. The working group — which included Holmes Principal John McCauley, parents, staff and PTO leadership — was careful to balance cost efficiencies with quality, particularly when it came to removing portions of the space’s asphalt flooring.
“We went back and forth with trying to make this as natural a space as we could without spending all of our money removing asphalt,” Hermanns said.
The result is a compromise between the space’s natural features, such as its canopy of old-growth trees, and the asphalt flooring — much of which remains, except that which surrounds the space’s mature deciduous trees.
“Holmes was one of the first schools to get earth composting,” she said. “We’d been using a portion of the space for garden composting but hadn’t been able to utilize the entire space.”
Hermanns said students should be able to utilize the space regularly from next fall to as late as mid-November, depending on the weather. The PTO hopes the outdoor area creates a learning environment in ways that can’t be done indoors.
“We’re excited to see how it gets integrated into the school curriculum,” she said. “We see this as an extension of a classroom.”
Hermanns, who has a third-grader at Holmes, noted that during the discovery process the Holmes PTO consulted with other PTOs that have developed similar projects, albeit of varying magnitude.
They had a lot of precedents, since District 97 has been brimming with PTO-led enhancements of late — from wooden benches constructed at Beye to a garden shed made of repurposed materials at Irving. The Holmes PTO also consulted with students, teachers and staff members.
In the future, the Holmes PTO anticipates more enhancements to the outdoor space, including a garden shed to hold equipment and classroom supplies, more plants and student artwork installations.
A previous version of this article incorrectly spelled the last name of Holmes PTO member Sharon Hermanns. Wednesday Journal regrets this error.