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Hamptons Life

May 3, 2010 10:41 AMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Proposed Eco-walk at Sag Harbor Elementary School to link the community

May 3, 2010 10:41 AM

I once heard it said that successful works of architecture should appear as if they had grown like trees out of their surrounding landscape.

I have always kept this concept close when designing a home or building. In my opinion, it’s vital to a structure’s success, which should appear as if had sprouted naturally from the Earth like a mushroom after a rainstorm.

I have a good friend who has a house on the western coast of Ireland that looks as if it had grown between the boulders on the rocky shore, much like a mussel or barnacle. It’s hard to imagine the coastline without Marcus’s house perched on those cold Irish rocks.

I thought about this the other day when a friend of mine, Sam Panton of Terra Design in Sag Harbor, was telling me about a project that he had conceived a few months back. After walking back and forth across the Sag Harbor Elementary School yard while picking up and dropping off his daughter, he imagined a wonderful garden in place of the Dumpster, chain link fence and stretch of crab grass that is cornered between the tennis courts and Pierson High School.

“That’s amazing!” I thought after our talk. “Creating a garden that will look as if it had sprouted from the building! A bit of a reverse process, but why not?”

When the community school lawns need to be cut in the United Kingdom, Mr. Panton’s native country, a few of the local dads get together on a Saturday, bring their lawn mowers, and cut the grass together, he said. It was this tradition that inspired him to create the concept for the newly proposed Eco-Walk at Sag Harbor Elementary School, an educational garden and landscape that will be created solely by community labor, and most important, solely with community money, if all goes according to plan.

The proposed Eco-Walk will fill in all of the unused land behind the Sag Harbor Elementary School, surrounding the tennis courts and current storage container, and will stretch its way out to the sidewalk and across the street to Pierson High School. The walk will purposively wrap around and extend from the existing greenhouse by Kryn Olson, which has been a cornerstone of the project. The connecting of the schools via the Eco-Walk is meant to serve as a reminder of the cohesion of the community and the connected path that all the children of Sag Harbor will follow.

The Eco-Walk will incorporate such things as an outdoor classroom setting, an outdoor lunch area, an edible garden and different landscape zones to educate students about local flora and fauna. Science lessons will utilize the different landscapes to illustrate the natural history of the land—from glacial erratic to tidal wetlands to dunescape. The proposed Eco-Walk will also use resources to convert an existing storage container into a self-sustaining classroom, powered by photovoltaic solar panels.

The low maintenance, completely native garden will show what a community can do when it works together.

Sag Harbor Elementary parent Ed Bruehl has generously taken the reins to organize and raise funds for the project. He is currently in the process of raising awareness and gathering offers from local designers, builders and contractors to get the work done at cost and sometimes for free for the project, which is estimated to have a target budget of approximately $100,000.

All involved in this Eco-Walk project feel confident that once this plan is refined by the core group and shared with the appropriate decision makers, including members of the Sag Harbor Board of Education and the Parent Teacher Association, they will acquire adequate financial donations from kind citizens who are keen on seeing this plan fully implemented in time for the back to school fall season.

What I find most inspiring about this project is the significance surrounding the concept of a community creating a garden for its children. How amazing is that!

I have this image of all the kids, dads and moms clad in old jeans and sweatshirts, planting bulbs, weeding, sowing seeds, and most important, smiling together. Hats off to everyone trying to make this happen. And hats off to the garden that will grow from the school.

Hopefully as the years go by, it will be hard to imagine the school without the garden. And the garden without the school.

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