Students, families and Puget Sound waterways to benefit from unique Boeing partnership

Boeing invests in innovative Tacoma Green Schoolyards Program

January 06, 2021 in Our Commitment

Existing paved play space at Whitman Elementary School in Tacoma, Wash. contributes to stormwater runoff and urban heat.

Photo courtesy The Trust for Public Land

Almost everything is different in the age of COVID-19. Many Puget Sound classrooms are currently virtual. People are searching out new and evolving ways to interact and unwind.

Yet, some things remain the same. That includes the numerous benefits people gain from time spent in parks and green spaces and the feeling of empowerment that comes from the ability to shape the environment around us. There is also the increasingly important goal of reducing the volume of dirty stormwater that flows from pavements into Puget Sound waterways.

In Pierce County, the Tacoma Green Schoolyards program – run by the Trust for Public Land (TPL), Metro Parks Tacoma (MPT), and the Tacoma School District (TPS) – is in the midst of a unique project designed to help on all these fronts. Boeing recently began partnering with TPL to help revitalize five schoolyards in diverse Pierce County neighborhoods. The reimagined spaces will not only enhance the school day for thousands of young students, but they will also serve as public parks outside of school hours and as critical filters for the stormwater that runs off paved surfaces and into the surrounding rivers and Sound.

“These schoolyards will create vibrant, new outdoor spaces for students and benefit residents of the surrounding neighborhoods, who currently do not have access to a neighborhood park,” says Cary Simmons, director of Community Strategies with The Trust for Public Land. “Public parks serving nonwhite communities are on average half the size of those serving majority-white populations, and serve five times as many people per acre.”

TPL has a long-term goal of ensuring everyone in America lives within a 10-minute walk of a quality park. Simmons notes that during this pandemic, the importance of parks and open space is increasingly important, since communities disproportionately affected by COVID-19 also have access to fewer parks and natural spaces.

With Boeing’s support, The Tacoma Green Schoolyards program will not only create more parks in communities that currently lack access to these spaces, but these reimagined schoolyards will also help diminish stormwater runoff. A recent study conducted by TPL at 42 Tacoma public schools revealed that the properties contain more than 150 acres of impervious cover, which results in more than 165 million gallons of stormwater runoff annually.

“From our impact analysis, we know that schoolyard transformations that are optimized for green infrastructure have the capacity to capture 94% of stormwater runoff on-site, equivalent to 157,000,000 gallons annually,” said Simmons. “Boeing’s support has allowed us to build relationships with the city to determine approaches for including green infrastructure elements in the redesigns and identifying multi-sector strategies for supporting the city’s effort to reduce stormwater pollution.”

The TPL project complements work Boeing has been doing in the region to increase ecology STEM education, including supporting the iDEA School and Washington Green Schools curriculum.

“Boeing is committed to being engaged in and giving back to the local communities where our employees live and work,” says Gina Breukelman, senior manager, Northwest Region Boeing Global Engagement. “By partnering with The Trust for Public Land on this innovative project, we are able to help in several areas we are passionate about at Boeing: preparing future STEM leaders, striving towards racial equity by supporting underserved communities, and working to improve the environment around us. We look forward to seeing these re-imagined schoolyard spaces in the coming year.”

Even in the current remote learning setting, teachers at schools including Reed Elementary in Tacoma are working with students to incorporate the innovative program into this year’s curriculum. Students are learning about stormwater and the environment, and their ideas about how to transform their own schoolyard will be incorporated into the final designs.

“Students practice life skills and civic engagement, like budgeting, voting, and presenting ideas,” explains Simmons. “They gain environmental literacy and appreciation by connecting the sustainable technologies in their schoolyard with protecting Puget Sound.”

By Deborah Feldman

Reed Elementary School’s existing playground in Tacoma, Wash. is adjacent to the I-5 highway, posing air quality and sound pollution issues.

Photo courtesy The Trust for Public Land

A mockup of proposed work for a rain garden and climbing boulders outside First Creek Middle School in Tacoma.

Photo courtesy The Trust for Public Land