Principal’s Perspective on Willard Garden: By MICHELE PATTERSON

Tuesday September 21, 2004

The Willard garden has been a source of visual delight for both students and community members for many years. Beyond this, it is an important part of our educational program. There is a large and plentiful vegetable garden as well as the ornamental garden that fronts the school. Our garden coordinator, Matt Tsang, has been on the Willard staff for eight years. 

There have been a number of questions directed to the community through the Daily Planet about the site renovation project at Willard Middle School that need to be addressed. There are also a number of misunderstandings that need to be corrected. First, let’s just summarize the work being done this year. 

The Willard Middle School Grounds Improvement Project is a plan that has been long in the making, with school and community input, and the Telegraph Avenue gardens are only a part of the overall project. Since February 2004, there have been eight meetings to discuss the project and to develop the plans, plus a meeting with the entire Willard faculty. The project is expected to be completed in early November. 

The focus of this effort has been on providing a student gathering space in the central courtyard of the school, starting to unify the campus, and in various improvements to the exterior of the school. Next year, additional work will be done continuing those improvements inside the school The highlights of the project under construction now are: 

• The campus quad will include an amphitheater for 250 students, a lawn for informal play, and trees to define the quad and provide a gathering place and a 

center to the campus. 

• Entrances and gates are being improved. Due to traffic congestion on Stuart Street, the Telegraph Avenue entrance is being improved. The sidewalk is being 

widened, and the chain link fence through the garden along Telegraph is being replaced with an improved fence. 

• Drainage improvements are being made to the playing field. 

• The access road from Derby Street to the basketball courts is being paved. 

• Refinement of the garden area to unify the design, ensure student accessibility, and provide additional irrigation. 

• Removal of some of the fence enclosures to open the campus up. 

• A variety of other smaller enhancements to the site. 

The path through the garden has been the subject of some discussion. Over the summer when the architect took the plans to be approved by the state, the state architect noted that both students and community members use the space—thus any path needs to be accessible. Though this change happened over the summer, we should have done a better job informing the community as to why this change was being made, and discussing implementation options. Finally, photos taken in different seasons (and years!) will show a vastly different garden even if no work was done. 

Site meetings were held to discuss all aspects of this project, starting in January. The plan was presented to the School Board in March. The site meetings were attended by Willard staff, including myself, district staff, the landscape architect, and various parents and staff. According to notes from the landscape architect, Yolanda Huang, a former Willard parent, was at the first two meetings and several others. During the summer break, as the construction progressed, Huang has had regular contact with staff, sharing her good ideas and concerns. She has personally supervised some of the removal of plantings, and helped the site host a day for volunteers to help pull out plants before the tractor’s scheduled appearance. These plants have been saved for replanting. 

The various gardens at Willard have long been part of the school experience for students. We recognize their importance to our educational program here at Willard. We appreciate the community’s effort to help us maintain the gardens, enhancing both the appearance of the community and our children’s education. 

We ask for the community’s patience as the site goes through this construction phase. We remind everyone that even the beautiful new buildings at Berkeley High, as well as the new look at King Middle School, had to evolve through a construction phase to become the beautiful additions to the neighborhoods that they are today.