While many other folks were still sleeping last Saturday morning, about 100 volunteers were already hard at work removing chunks of asphalt from a parking lot at Holy Rosary Bilingual Academy, as the latest phase to replace the parking lot with a soccer field and playground equipment. The work also helps control street runoff from polluting waterways by allowing water to filter through the soil.
“What’s happening at Holy Rosary Bilingual Academy is part of a regional movement to transform excess pavement into green spaces that make our communities healthier,” said Ryan Mello, executive director of Pierce Conservation District and a Tacoma City Council member. “Being constantly surrounded by pavement isn’t good for our health and Depave Puget Sound empowers anyone to take the initiative to make their neighborhoods greener.”
Children at Holy Rosary have been skinning their knees on their asphalt playground for decades but will have grass, trees and wood chips when they return in the fall thanks to the Pierce Conservation District and the helpful hands of volunteers.
“We have been wanting to add green space so that our children have grass on which to play. The back area, where the children play, has been mostly blacktop with rocks and the children try to play soccer, but often fall down and scrape their knees,” said Holy Rosary Principal Katie Dempsey. “This project will transform our campus, making it more beautiful and usable, all while reducing the massive polluted water runoff we have had for decades.”
Work on the $80,000 project started about a year ago, when volunteers removed the 5,000 square feet of asphalt from a back lot and then moved on to phase two, 10,000 square feet of parking lot on Saturday. The final phase will be to plant the grass and install new playground equipment. The project was funded by a Washington Department of Ecology grant as well as through support from The City of Tacoma, The Nature Conservancy, and The Rose Foundation.
“It’s not the school’s money paying for this,” Volunteer Coordinator and Outreach Specialist Camila Matamala-Ost said. “A lot of people helped make this happen.”
On top of fewer trips to get bandages for scraped knees and elbows, the asphalt removal will keep about 350,000 gallons of polluted stormwater from flowing into Puget Sound every year. The asphalt – all 150 tons of it – will be recycled.
“Removing pavement is an important part of salmon recovery efforts because most of the water that enters street drains isn’t cleaned before it reaches the Puget Sound,” said Pierce Conservation District’s Director of the Water Quality Improvement Program Melissa Buckingham.
The conservation district coordinates about two de-paving projects a year and hopes to ramp up to about a dozen a year. But that requires time, money and armies of volunteers.
“There are time-intensive projects,” Mello said. “It’s deep community engagement.”