Space to Grow, the program Healthy Schools Campaign co-manages with Openlands that transforms Chicago schoolyards into beautiful and functional spaces to play, learn, garden and be outside, has been awarded a grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Urban Waters Small Grants Program.
Why is a schoolyard transformation program getting grant money from the EPA for water? Great question! Space to Grow not only brings new outdoor spaces to schools and communities, but these schoolyards also help reduce neighborhood flooding. This unique program brings capital funding from Chicago Public Schools, Chicago Department of Water Management and the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago. That means two-thirds of the $1.5 million price tag for each schoolyard renovation comes from the region’s water management agencies, and each Space to Grow schoolyard uses special surfaces and design elements to capture rainwater. Space to Grow also transforms these schoolyards into beautiful and functional spaces for kids and communities to be active and connect with nature.
Together, these partners have made a commitment to transform 34 schoolyards in Chicago, investing in Space to Grow as a way to improve the city’s stormwater management through green infrastructure projects. By planting rain gardens and deep-rooted plants that suck up water and installing porous surfaces that absorb water, more water soaks into the ground right where it falls, rather than over-taxing the sewers or pooling at ground level.
And that helps Chicago’s urban waterways stay clear of sewage water during heavy storms, which is good for everyone. The Urban Waters Small Grants Program was started in 2012 to help protect and restore urban waters and to support community revitalization. The program has awarded approximately $6.6 million in grants to 114 organizations across the country and Puerto Rico. This year, $1.3 million in grants was given to 22 organizations in 18 states.
“Often underserved communities in our nation’s cities face disproportionate impacts from pollution, and too often they lack the resources to do something about it,” said Joel Beauvais, EPA Deputy Assistant Administrator for Water. “EPA provides support to empower these communities to improve the quality of their waterways and to help reconnect people and businesses with the water they depend on.”
The grant will help fund our community engagement work, which is a key element of the Space to Grow model, starting well before the schoolyard is even built. Each school is engaged in a months-long planning process during which teachers, school staff, parents, students and community members provide a vision for their schoolyard. The schoolyards are then designed and constructed to meet the unique needs and visions of each community. And it doesn’t end there. School and community workshops tailored to support a culture of wellness are part of the support plan that schools follow for two years after the schoolyard opens.
We’re excited and honored that Space to Grow was awarded this grant from the EPA, and are even more excited about the work we’re doing to ensure that all Chicago Public School students have safe and clean outdoor space.