One of Glendale Unified's oldest schools is in the running for a $1-million grant that would transform its asphalt-dominated campus into a modern environmental beacon.
The parents of children who attend Benjamin Franklin Elementary School, Glendale's foreign language magnet school that attracts students from throughout the city and beyond, are the driving force behind the grant proposal.
Their concern is over the environmental sustainability of the school, which is located 450 feet from the Golden State (5) Freeway and lacks sufficient shade on its campus.
The 87-year-old elementary school opened in 1926 as Lake Street School. About three decades later — in September 1957 — the nearby freeway opened, according to Mike Shea, a historian librarian at the Glendale Public Library.
A state law approved in 2003 prohibits districts from constructing schools within 500 feet of a freeway, unless schools harness methods to combat pollution.
Franklin was dealt a significant blow in April 2011 when crews cut down dozens of 30-foot trees nearby to make way for expansion of I-5.
A Caltrans spokesperson said then the trees would be replaced with native California pepper and Boston ivy species following the project's end in 2014.
Since the trees once absorbed the constant carbon pollution that bombards the school, their destruction further propelled Franklin parents to seek the grant. In the meantime, parents raised money to pay for air filters in classrooms.
The $1-million grant through California's Strategic Growth Council provides funds to agencies that preserve or enhance community spaces.
At Franklin, it would pay for 37 trees to shade the campus. Crews would also remove 45,000 square feet of asphalt covering almost 90% of the school's campus and all of its playground.
The proposal includes landscaping features to treat water runoff, permeable surfaces to replace asphalt and meandering pathways alongside water-conserving rain gardens.
When parent Hilary Stern learned about the grant opportunity, she shared the information and fellow parents joined the effort immediately.
“My principal concern… was the amount of asphalt and complete lack of shade for the kids,” Stern said in an email.
On hot days, the surface temperature of the asphalt has reached 108 degrees, according to a city report, forcing all students to stay indoors.
“This grant seemed to make a lot of sense for us,” said parent Gillian Bonacci, president of the Benjamin Franklin Foundation. “It is designed to take densely populated existing public land and make it more sustainable.”
The foundation has partnered with the school district, Osborne Architects and North East Trees, a Los Angeles-based environmental nonprofit that has planted more than 50,000 trees in the last two decades.
If the foundation is successful, it would receive the $1-million grant in August 2014.
Follow Kelly Corrigan on Twitter: @kellymcorrigan.