Bye bye mud pit... hello new courtyard

Bye bye mud pit... hello new courtyard
The top photo (courtesy of Oregon Landscape) shows what the space looked like before work began. The photo on the bottom (KATU photo) shows how it looks today.

HAPPY VALLEY, Ore. - An elementary school's courtyard got a much needed makeover thanks to a community that pulled together to transform a muddy mess into a usable space.

Revamping the courtyard at Sunnyside Elementary School, located at 13401 S.E. 132nd Avenue, is an idea that has been a long time coming.

"We'd been talking about it ever since I came here and I think probably before," said Cathy Lehmann, who is on her sixth year as the school's principal. "The teachers were saying 'we need to do something with that space out there.'  And there were plans, but it was muddy and there were trees with the roots coming out."

The project got a kick start last year when PTA member Jen Wildermuth sent a grant proposal to Lowe's. The hardware store chain approved the grant and sent the school a $5,000 check as seed money.

While the money was a good start, figuring out what to do with the courtyard and how to do it was a challenge.

"You know, we're just a couple of moms running the PTA - we don't design stuff like this," said PTA President Tina Lasko. "We've planned our own yards but to come up with something like this..."

And getting the help they needed wasn't easy at first.

"The whole thing just seemed to be cursed," Lasko said. "(There was) road block after road block. One group wanted to help and then it was gone. And then another and then it was gone."

Just when they were about to give up on the idea, the folks at Oregon Landscape stepped forward.

"It seemed like it just kind of stalled out," said landscaper Tony Iranshad, who had a vested interest in the project. He has a son who is a second grader at Sunnyside and an older son and daughter who were students there last year.

Iranshad and his business partner, Mike Meyer, got the ball rolling again and they followed through. Meyer came up with a design for the courtyard and Iranshad made sure the work got done.

"It's a slower time of year for us so we were able to put some labor into it and have the resources to do it," Iranshad said.

Iranshad was also able to talk the owner of Portland Rock & Landscape, Bryan Simpson, into donating some of the materials.

Simpson just started his business a couple of years ago and he said although it was a little tough for him to help out, he saw the importance of giving back to the community. It was his first time doing something like this.

"You've got to give something," he said. "You've got to get started somewhere."

So Simpson took a look at his stock and decided what he could part with. He also put up some of his own money and worked with Willamette Graystone, which donated some of the materials he didn't have.

Lehmann said volunteers from Kohl's came out to help with the labor and the retailer even kicked in some money to add to the grant from Lowe's.

The end result is a new courtyard with pavers instead of mud, trees that aren't coming up by the roots, a nice layer of bark dust and large stone planters that will have plants and flowers in them come spring. And now that the mud is gone, the kids can come in and give the courtyard a splash of color.

"We have an artist coming this spring that's going to do murals with the kids with a multi-cultural community theme and this is one of the spaces that the kids will be painting," said Lehmann.

Sunnyside Elementary's new courtyard is an example of folks coming together to help make a positive change in their community and it has meant all the world to the school.

"This is fabulous and not something we could have done without help," said Lehmann.