School uses grant, other funds to beautify campus

Kile Brewer
Posted 3/28/18

MIDDLEBURG – After lots of saving and waiting, Wilkinson Junior High Principal Christina Cornwell has healthy plants outside her school.

For years, the garden beds that border the school’s …

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School uses grant, other funds to beautify campus


MIDDLEBURG – After lots of saving and waiting, Wilkinson Junior High Principal Christina Cornwell has healthy plants outside her school.

For years, the garden beds that border the school’s exterior walls ran into the sidewalks, causing massive erosion during heavy rain that would wash dirt across the sidewalks where students frequently walk between classes.

“When I first came here, the campus was already pretty old,” Cornwell said. “A parent’s first impression of our school is based on what they see the first time they come here.”

Cornwell said she brought the problem up with district officials and saw immediate action in the form of concrete curbs bordering every planting area as well as adequate drainage to ensure the beds wouldn’t overflow. Once that was done, her focus moved onto filling the beds now that they don’t need to worry about washout.

“All of the plants and shrubbery had died,” she said. “It’s such a big campus that we can’t spend time going around watering everything by hand.”

As she continued planning for future foliage with school staff, the problem of watering kept coming up. She knew she would need some kind of irrigation, but the cost for a full irrigation system would eat up a large portion of the funds they had raised for the project.

“I’ve been working with the school for a while and we offer a giveback program with the school,” said Rick Dendler, owner of the St. Augustine-based KONA Ice truck that serves southern Clay County and parts of Putnam County.

Dendler went to Cornwell and asked how they could help. Once the two began talking, Cornwell found out Dendler had previously worked in irrigation and the two struck up a deal. Dendler, through KONA Ice, would lay about 400 feet of irrigation supplies purchased by the school to service the new planting beds.

In addition to help from Dendler, the Wilkinson Science Club wrote a grant proposal to the St. Johns River Water Management District and were awarded $2,000 through the SJRWMD Blue School Grant Type 2: Water-Conserving Garden Project. The grant will help pay for plants the school has picked out to control erosion and offer drought resistance to the new beds, in addition to covering cost for the irrigation supplies. The school did fundraisers to make up any additional costs, but Cornwell also mentioned that all the plants used were purchased from Another Bloomin’ Nursery in Green Cove Springs at a discounted rate.

Last Wednesday, everything had finally come together and the beds started to take shape. Dendler planned and laid irrigation in the front and side beds at the school’s main entrance while students and teachers worked to lay weed blocking paper and put in shrubs and other plants.

“There’s no way we would’ve been able to do this, no matter how much money we raised, without people willing to do work,” Cornwell said.

The workforce increased significantly through the help of Wilkinson wrestling coach Charles Gerber, who is also a member of VP-62 at Naval Air Station Jacksonville. Gerber coordinates volunteering within his unit and arranged a group of about 15 people to come out March 21 to help with planting and getting everything moved and set up.

“I talked to Cornwell and she said they needed help,” Gerber said. “I head up our CPO 365 program where anybody above [the rank of] E6 gets together to do things for the community.”

Gerber said the volunteer group does about one big job every month, but they were trying to keep the work at Wilkinson going for a little bit longer. Through the end of the last quarter of the school year, members of VP-62 will return to campus every other week to help maintain the garden beds in their infancy. After that, depending on how smoothly things go, Gerber said he wants to propose they “adopt” the school and make it a regular project where volunteers can come out bi-weekly in the future.


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