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Cob Gardens in A School Yard

28-May-2010 [88]

• cob building at the Downtown Alternative School (DAS)

For over three years, the Downtown Alternative School (DAS) worked to get approval to build a peace garden including planters and cob benches in David Crombie Park at L'Esplanade & Jarvis, near the St. Lawrence Market. The garden plan came to be when some interested and engaged teachers wanted to improve the school playground in David Crombie Park. When they found out that they could not dig down into the ground because the park is built on top of a garbage dump, they came up with the idea of building planters and benches with cob, a building material made by mixing clay, sand, and straw by foot, and forming it by hand into walls.

They wanted to create the "peace garden" on the school yard, and build various planters/container gardens with trellises for shade, using cob. The students would help plan, design, and build with cob and decorate it with mosaics. The shade and gardens would be a welcome space in an otherwise hot and sunny asphalt pit and a place where the students could, if necessary, go to resolve conflicts.

However, it took more than 3 years of trying to get the garden plan approved, and the teacher said that it would never have been possible without the help of their city councillor, Pam McConnell and her very supportive staff. The teacher said that, at every step of the way, in several meetings, city staff in different areas "passed the buck", with no one willing to take responsibility to approve and support the project. She mentioned, in particular, that one of the parks supervisors was "not very cooperative". Possible issues with the city unions were also raised.

Public health became involved because of the plan for food gardens.

In addition to city approval, the DAS needed approval by the Toronto District School Board (TDSB).

The models and plans for the school finally got unofficial approval from the City Councillor on the understanding that the school would be responsible for the garden. It was then built.