Behind a poster of tropical blue waters wrapped in white sand beaches, window panes in Jeff Whited’s classroom are held together by strips of frayed, gray duct tape. Beyond the windows stand four large pine trees and a courtyard surrounded by bushes with buds that never bloom and leafs that never grow.
“And I stare at this all day,” said Whited, a former language arts teacher with a master’s degree in instructional technology.
His eighth-graders share the same view.
“Dreary. Nothingness. It makes me sad,” Camden Davis, 14, said.
“It’s basically wasted space,” T Harris, 13, agreed.
Then Veronica Domke, 13, leaned forward and said what was on everyone’s thoughts: “I see potential. I think we’re capable of turning it into something better than it is.”
Before Whited’s eighth-grade Gateway to Technology classes move on from the old Perkins Middle School (a swing space for Litchfield Middle School students), they intend to leave behind a courtyard worthy of their aspirations.
Encouraged by Principal Dyan Floyd, Whited wrote his first grant this school year. Last month, a $5,000 check from Lowe’s arrived in his mailbox at the main office; the money will be used to remodel the dilapidated courtyard.
With a wheelbarrow and shovels donated by Lowe’s, the students broke ground Saturday on the project, tearing out trees, picking up trash and getting ready to spray-paint lines that outline their vision.
On Friday, a group of students walked through the courtyard, pointing to a lifeless corner where four wooden planters will inspire horticulture studies and a line of dead bushes where a pond will be filled with fish, frogs and other creatures found in a biology curriculum.
The pond will be strategically placed, the students said, so that art students at the other end of the courtyard can capture the view in their capstone art projects.
All is by design, even the plants.
“Butterfly flowers are sweeter, so they won’t attract bees,” said Harris, who added that multiple species of birds would not co-exist because of their territorial nature. That’s something to consider when constructing bird houses.
Everything will be handmade, Whited said, except for a chalkboard rescued from another Akron school building. That chalkboard, which would have cost hundreds of dollars, and handmade benches will be framed by large bushes, creating an outdoor classroom.
Students picked up design, engineering, financial and other skills throughout the planning. They used computer design programs and drafted blueprints for the project. Then they budgeted each aspect and checked for the lowest prices.
“I learned how to talk to people on the phone,” said Domke, laughing at her newfound ability to haggle.
The students hope to have the project completed by June, “so we can actually go out there,” said Owen Schauer, who added that even if future classes take care of the courtyard (something that worried others), the building might come down.
Built in 1953, Perkins Middle School was part of the Buchtel cluster until the seventh- and eighth-graders were absorbed by Buchtel Community Learning Center in 2012.
Litchfield Middle School, previously located near Firestone High School, was then torn down. The Firestone cluster students brought the Litchfield name to the old Perkins building.
With a handful of buildings left to renovate, Akron officials will debate whether to tear down or sell the building, which along with the 400 West Market Street building — now a swing space for King and Harris students — might be used for Case Elementary students during construction at their school.
Beyond that, there are “no definitive plans” for the building on Mull Avenue, administrators said, though Whited’s students have been told that they might get the chance to transplant their project when the new 338,000-square-foot Firestone High School and Litchfield Middle School building, a $74 million project, is completed.
“Even if it gets knocked down,” Davis said, “it’ll be nice to know that we improved it for the years that we were here.”
Doug Livingston can be reached at 330-996-3792 or firstname.lastname@example.org.