Blog
April 2018

“The best classroom and the richest cupboard are roofed only by the sky,” said British educator Margaret McMillan in 1925. 

Science shows us that time spent outdoors improves short-term memory, restores mental energy, relieves stress, improves concentration, and enhances thinking and creativity. That’s why Otak believes in creating spaces to promote outdoor education for our children.

On Friday, April 20, Washington Elementary in Vancouver, Washington, opened its first community garden. Otak architects and engineers were on hand to celebrate with the school community after helping to design and construct the garden.

The fifth-grade students at Washington Elementary School expressed a desire to create a school community garden after reading an article on urban gardening. The students appealed to their visionary principal, Kirsten Copeland, who found a way to fund the project and move it to reality. 

Over the next five months, fourth-grade teacher Melissa Hendy led a planning committee, which fleshed out a vision for an outdoor learning environment. The school enlisted Melissa’s husband Allen, a civil engineer at Otak, to manage the project and direct construction. Landscape designer Maggie Daly laid out the garden and prepared the project estimate, and Tim Leavitt (director of Otak’s southwest operations) helped with construction. The Otak team also helped secure donations from local businesses and provided guidance to the principal on getting the project started and constructed.

“The Otak team, led by project manager Allen Hendy, helped lead the design of this project. The team took great care to provide student voice throughout the design process,” said Principal Copeland. “The Otak team listened to the key elements students wanted and embedded those elements into the final design layout. Their efficiency allowed us to take an idea from concept to reality in less than 8 weeks – just in time for planting. Washington Elementary couldn’t have done this project with this level of quality without them.”

On March 3, we joined students, staff, donors, neighborhood volunteers, and community partners to install 13 raised beds—one for each class and one for the onsite Boys & Girls Club, which will maintain the garden during the summer. The students plan to grow onions, leeks, peas, broccoli, tomatoes, and other vegetables and fruits. 

We joined the community again on April 20 for the official dedication and opening ceremony. Watch the time lapse video to see the garden grow from start to finish. 

“One of the reasons Vancouver is a great place to be is because of local corporate citizenship,” said Tim Leavitt, who is also the former mayor of Vancouver. “This community is a better place to live, work and play because companies like Otak support local initiatives and provide incentives for staff to get involved with personally meaningful and important local causes. It’s quite rewarding for both the community and our employees!”

Thanks to Melissa Hendy, the school now has a curriculum to use with the garden as an outdoor learning space. We look forward to seeing the garden come to life in the coming months.

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