Photo: L. Carol Ritchie
Parents and teachers at Campbell Elementary School had big plans for creating a Wetlands Learning Lab on their swampy play fields. They told Campbell kids about the future wildlife zone, the river-of-sand play area, the rain garden and bird blind, and got them excited, too.
They held a silent auction, a benefit concert, a bake sale, solicited donations from local businesses and a grant from the Washington Forest Foundation. Students learned wetlands words like “vernal” to earn pledge money from parents, neighbors and Campbell alumni.
In six months, they raised $40,000. “Not bad, for a Title I school,” says parent Jessica Claire Haney, where 60 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches. By January, they thought shovels were poised to break ground.
Then they hit the brick retaining wall of public school finance protocol and procedures.
First the APS facilities office, already busy with 250 school projects and an $18 million budget for this year, had to find staff and time to usher the proposal through the system. Then the landscape architect, Nancy Striniste, had to go over the plan in detail with county environmental services workers and make adjustments to meet Arlington guidelines.
“There were lots of little flaws that would have tripped us up in the process,” explained APS Facilities Director Jim Meikle at a PTA meeting last week. “It’s important that we know in advance that we meet the county standards.”
Most discouraging to parents and teachers who worked on the project: The school needed to invite at least six landscape companies to bid on the construction and arrange an in-person tour for bidders with Meikle, designer Striniste and Principal Sandra Lochhead-Price.
The requirements delayed the rain garden by months and moved it into prime landscaping season, possibly adding thousands to the price, parents and teachers worry.
“I know it’s a lot of permits and licensing and all sorts of red tape,” said Meikle. “But there’s a very good reason for that: We always end up with a very defensible and transparent result … I hope and think that the wait will be worthwhile.”
But the wait is hard for the Campbell community, said kindergarten and first grade teacher Pat Findikoglu at the meeting. Teachers and parents came up with the plan as a way to alleviate flooded play fields and walking paths -- the school is located not just on Carlin Springs Road but on the springs themselves. One end of the school yard is always wet, regardless of dry spring weather, Findikoglu said.