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A Tree Grows at Madison

School hopes to turn courtyard into outdoor classroom.

A tree planted at Madison High School will likely act as a seed for a future landscaping project. In commemoration of Arbor Day, the Town of Vienna planted a sawtooth oak in a courtyard at Madison High School on Monday, May 2. That tree will become part of a larger landscaping project, once funding for the project is secured.

Mayor M. Jane Seeman read a proclamation in honor of Arbor Day and urged citizens to celebrate the holiday and to protect trees. Afterward, Jonathan Pine of the Virginia Department of Forestry recognized Vienna as a "Tree City U.S.A.," the fourth time the town has been granted that honor.

In order to be recognized as a tree city, a community must have a tree board, spend at least $2 per capita on tree planting, have a tree ordinance and a public Arbor Day observance, Pine said.

The tree was planted on May 2 with help from the Community Enhancement Commission. Zach Spencer, 17, is the student liaison to the commission and suggested Madison as the site for the planting.

"They were trying to come up with an idea for where to do it, Zach said. "I figured I’d bring Madison into the community."

The new tree is just phase one of a larger plan. The area, prior to the recent renovation at Madison, had been an open courtyard. During the renovation, it was closed off, leaving the space empty, but also available for use by the faculty. "The original premise was an outdoor science laboratory," said Dick Gongaware who teaches the Geosystems course at Madison.

Gongaware contacted Walter Bainbridge, of Bainbridge Landscape Construction in Vienna, for assistance in developing the area.

Bainbridge came up with a design for an outdoor classroom and a small pond.

Gongaware hopes to be able to use the pond to be able to allow students to do testing for water quality or organisms. Other parts of the new area will expand the different sorts of experiments that budding botanists or environmental scientists can explore.

Gongaware also realized that the courtyard could become more inclusive. "It’d be nice if we could expand it to the entire school," he said. "Just because it's outdoors doesn’t mean it just has to be a science classroom."

FACULTY FROM the art department has already expressed an interest in placing some sculptures in the area, said Principal Mark Merrell.

Merrell was enthusiastic about the new use for the area. Now that it has been enclosed, the school will be able to make use of it for academic pursuits. He also would hope to open the courtyard to students during their downtime. "Probably during their lunch," he said.

The major stumbling block right now is funding. Bainbridge estimates that the outdoor classroom area would cost about $20,000, and the pond would cost another $15,000.

Gongaware said he had applied for a grant last year, but the competition was tough. Only $300,000 in funding was available and the applications for that money totaled about $1.4 million.

The Madison PTA has provided some seed money, Gongaware said. He said that they now plan to sponsor a sale of personalized brick pavers to help come up with the rest of the funding. Profits from the pavers will go toward the construction of the new landscaping.

Residents interested in purchasing one or more of the pavers should contact Gongaware via e-mail for more details at rkgongaware@fcps.edu.