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Grass replaces pavement at Alexander Public School

by Naomi Grant

Volunteers lay the sod (photo by Jenny Martindale)
Volunteers lay the sod (photo by Jenny Martindale)
Where there was asphalt, there is now grass and trees (photo by Jenny Martindale)
Where there was asphalt, there is now grass and trees (photo by Jenny Martindale)
Getting ready to cut the ribbon at the official launch of the green schoolyard (photo provided)
Getting ready to cut the ribbon at the official launch of the green schoolyard (photo provided)
Results of visioning in 2008/2009 showed a strong preference for grass for all ages
Results of visioning in 2008/2009 showed a strong preference for grass for all ages
This project built on past successes, like the installation of this hill slide (photo provided)
This project built on past successes, like the installation of this hill slide (photo provided)

If you walk past Alexander Public School, you will see children running and playing on the grass.  A little over a month ago, there was asphalt where there are now trees and grass.  This incredible change was born of hard work, commitment, passion, and teamwork.

Jenny Martindale spearheaded the five year effort.  She is Chair of the Alexander Schoolyard Transformation and Regreening Committee and has two children at the school. 

“At first, it was believed by many that grass in the upper yard would not work for many reasons (drainage, subsurface obstacles, on-going maintenance, etc.), but an asphalt schoolyard just wasn't an option anymore in the minds of many parents, so with much convincing, the project was approved. Money was also an issue, but after four years of fundraising and financial/project management support from the board, we were able to go ahead with the project.  Also, in the end, the final cost of the project was much lower than anticipated.  It was completed under budget and the school now has money left over to complete other schoolyard projects on its wish list including a rain garden, performing arts stage, outdoor schoolyard art projects and potentially a 3-D rope climbing structure,”  Martindale explained.  Over $19,000 was raised.

On September 16, 2013, the new green schoolyard was officially launched.  “During the ribbon cutting ceremony when the kids were first permitted to run onto the grass, there was celebration and jubilation,” said Martindale. 

A month later, that joy is still evident as children, families, and neighbours enjoy the grass.  Beth Smith, parent of two children at Alexander, thanked Martindale and others for their efforts.   “This morning I was at the school to drop the kids off and I was watching everyone run and play on the new grass, doing summersaults, playing tag. It was just so wonderful. It looks so pretty, and for some reason -- and I'm sure there's been a study, somewhere -- kids just seem to be more at home and free to be themselves on soft grass rather than hard concrete. Thanks to you and all the fantastic volunteers who worked so hard to make that happen!!!”

She is right about the studies.  There is no shortage of evidence that natural play areas benefit physical and mental well-being, reduce schoolyard aggression and conflict, and improve academic performance (1).  However, kids and parents don’t need studies to tell them that they prefer green areas.  Several consultations at Alexander over the past 15 years consistently found that replacing the asphalt with grass and trees was top of the wish list for students of all ages, families, and teachers.  It is a tribute to the hard work of Martindale and others that that vision has finally been realized.

Other conditions were also key to the success of this project.  First among these was support of the School Board. “Following extensive schoolyard visioning and planning sessions, we (the Alexander Schoolyard Transformation and Regreening Committee) presented our plan to RDSB facilities department and they agreed to partner with the school to complete the project and split the costs,” said Martindale.  This was a marked change from the response to previous regreening committees, who had been told the project was unfeasible and undesirable.   The growing success of VETAC’s “Ugliest Schoolyard Contest” which facilitates schoolyard regreening, as well as general shifts in attitude, have resulted in broader acceptance and support for green and naturalized schoolyards.

Gaining the blessing and logistical support of the School Board allowed the committee to fully benefit from the support of parents and neighbours.  Martindale gave a good example of this synergy: “We were lucky that over the summer of 2013, Alexander was undergoing some interior renovations and that contract/tender was lumped in with the asphalt removal contract (i.e. RDSB coordinated the work with sub-contractors to remove the asphalt, prep and grade the yard, install top soil, foot path surrounding the grass and plant trees).  Once that was complete, school volunteers laid the sod.”

The enthusiasm of the school community and wider neighbourhood was another big factor in the success of this project.  People were involved from the beginning, and invested in the results.  Martindale describes how everyone came together to ensure the long awaited sod would get well established, “When it came time to laying down the sod, students, parents and neighbours all came out to help and it was down in an evening. Then, for the following three weeks, families volunteered daily to water the grass in the evenings (on days that it didn't rain).”

This success builds on past regreening work at Alexander.  The current Alexander Schoolyard Transformation and Regreening Committee has planted numerous shrubs and trees, built a grass hill slide, created a ‘no-mow’ zone, added walking paths, and installed sitting rocks, benches and picnic tables.  Previous regreening committees created a Peace Garden and a Friendship Garden, planted flowers, trees and shrubs, painted pavement, and depaved a corner of the schoolyard to create a wildlife habitat garden.  Each of these completed projects brought delight and sustained enthusiasm to do more.  Through all these efforts, the vision of replacing the expanse of asphalt with grass was never far away.

This vision has finally been realized. “There will be fewer bandaids used and more grass stains (a good trade off).  Kids will have opportunities to play different games and this new landscape will facilitate a new creative play environment.  I truly believe that higher quality outdoor play opportunities and play spaces make for better learning in the classroom.  And of course, there will be more opportunities to now take the classroom outside!” enthused Martindale. 


Naomi Grant chaired the school council and regreening committee at Alexander P.S. from 2001-2009.


1.  A classic book on this subject is “Last Child in the Woods.  Saving our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder.”  2008, by Richard Louv.

More information on the benefits and best practices of schoolyard regreening can be obtained from Evergreen , and the Canadian Biodiversity Institute.



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