All the students, teachers and staff at Will Rogers Elementary School gathered for the dedication and testing of their new Ocean Friendly Garden. Principal Danielle Cortes greeted everyone in English and Spanish. Joining them were the partners in the project: Ventura Unified School District superintendendent and facilities maintenance staff, school board president, (out-going) parent/teacher association (PTA) president, City water agency general manager and staff, Midtown Ventura Community Council (MVCC) board members…and more. It's fitting that the School is bordered by “Ocean Ave.”

The City of Ventura's Fire Department brought out a fire truck, rolling out a hose and running water to simulate a rainstorm (at right). The hundreds of students (per District policy, not shown to protect their identity) and adults watched as the water was slowed by rocks, spread out along the bio-swale, and absorbed by the soil and mulch (at left). The event was video-taped by Ridini Entertainment, which is contracted by the City of Ventura to cover educational events.

80 feet by 6 feet of asphalt used to be where the bio-swale is now, and was a conduit for runoff going to a small garden - and onto the street! During the First Flush (first 1” of rain), 6,635 gallons of water from 10,250 sq. ft. of hard surfaces - blacktop, the adjacent school buildings and a walkway awning, and the asphalt between the buildings - will now be filtered and absorbed by the bio-swale. The soil “sponges” up the water during the wet season and releases it during the dry season, with excess water percolating further into soil.

Note: A swale is a low point on a site, designed to mimick the ups-and-downs of a site's original shape; the “bio” in bio-swale reflects the inclusion of plants to help clean runoff. The recently installed plants, 90% of which are native to the area, will grow in over the coming months. An OFG sign (at right) was posted on the School's fence, and this OFG will be added to the OFG online map. The artwork for the sign was provided to the City by Surfrider, and they paid for production of 100 of them to give out for free for OFGs in the Midtown area (with partner logos printed in the bottom section). As students returned to class, some were spotted hanging out by the bio-swale.

An agreement about maintaning the OFGs has been signed between the District and the School, with the School assuming the main tasks. Teacher Kris Guzman will be the main contact. Kris has been cultivating a trainee (a kindergarden teacher). The School is continuing in the direction of becoming a science-environmental magnet school. In addition, Dave Marshall, Director of Facilities Services for the District, is pursuing sustainability at all of schools. Surfrider and Dave initiated a discussion about doing professionally led staff training, contracting with an entity like G3/The Green Gardens Group to lead Hands-On Workshops (and inviting local, private-sector landscape professionals) to retrofit District sites.

The second part of the School OFG project was the redoing of a garden on the other side of this blacktop, adding a bio-swale, native plants and fruit trees (at left). The bio-swale will capture 2,232 gallons of water from the First Flush (once a gutter is put on the walkway awning). A future plan is to connect the two bio-swales. One thought is to connect the two bio-swales in case the larger bio-swale can not absorb all the runoff - and also to provide capacity to capture more than the First Flush.

Just next to this area is a vegetable garden tended by the students (at right), teaching them about so many things as well as providing food for the School. Kris also has created a great website that documents the different School gardens: vegetable, fruit orchard, OFG, Schoolyard Habitat (SYH is funded through U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife).

Here's a breakdown of how the project collaboration happened:

  • Coordination - MVCC selected the School and led the effort, with the PTA being MVCC's primary contact to the School and District personnel. The District requires an on-site coordinator for self-help projects, and Kris played that role. Big to kudos to MVCC's Dan Long and David Ferrin (an architect and G3 Core Concepts Workshop graduate);
  • Funding - PTA ($1,000), Surfrider ($1,000), MVCC ($3,000). This site was chosen by MVCC through their Adopt-A-School program.
  • Design - donated by Brian Brodersen, local landscape architect and G3 Core Concepts Workshop graduate;
  • Machinery and operation - Levi's Sawing cut the asphalt (Levi's kids are students at the School) Ventura Rental donated a bobcat and trencher for our local green construction contractor, Jeff Zimmerman of Z Dwellings, to remove the asphalt and dig the swales…which saved all of our backs. See pictures of the work at the end of this blog post.
  • Labor - teachers, students, City staff, Surfrider-Ventura County Chapter, G3 reps.
  • Waste removal - Dave Morin who wrenched out some of the large brush with his truck. E.J. Harrison donated the dumpsters to haul away asphalt and un-mulch-able plants;
  • Boulders - Larry Mossler of Ojai Quarry who donated boulders;
  • Food - Pizza Chief who gave us great discounts on food for the volunteers.

MVCC is gearing up for another Adopt-A-School project: Loma Vista School. Another school they might consider is Cabrillo Middle School, a site that is part of Surfrider-Ventura County's larger vision for restoring the San Jon Lagoon. The Middle School could sponge up a huge amount of runoff before heading to the San Jon Lagoon. San Jon Barranca (aka creek) is encased in concrete and runs underneath the School. Wouldn't it be cool if it were “daylighted:” brought to the light of day, helping to absorb and clean runoff, and a beautiful site for the students.

Local media coverage:

Here are some pictures of the asphalt removal and swale excavation process: