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Chicago ACE Mentor Students Create and Construct Outdoor Classroom and Recreation Space



For the past six years, the Chicago chapter of the ACE Mentor Program has run a free, seven-week-long summer design-build workshop in collaboration with Chicago Public Schools.  Under the guidance of volunteer mentors, ACE students create and construct an actual, small-scale project for a real client.

This past summer 17 upper-class high school students transformed a Southside school’s neglected concrete side-yard into an appealing, usable space with gardens, a small outdoor classroom, mural, and a recreation spot.   The students named their project Giardino, Italian for garden or yard.   Students completing the summer program received a $1,200 scholarship for college.

The project at Santa Lucia School provides a vibrant, outdoor space for the small urban school, where the only opportunity for outdoor time previously involved a long walk to the neighborhood park.  Measuring 10’ x 125’, the project site and the small construction budget ($7,000) presented design challenges for the ACE team. 

The final plan for the new Giardino extends an adjacent garden from a neighboring property, thereby encouraging young primary school students to develop their own green thumbs.  The space also includes an inlaid life-size chessboard and two semi-circular classrooms with gabion benches for outdoor instruction and reflection.  The benches were constructed with concrete reclaimed following demolition of the original side-yard.

Local construction and design firms donated more than $13,000 in materials and services.  Several of their staff worked alongside the ACE students to help improve the project. 

Matthew Snoap, AIA, with Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture, directed a team of five professionals who serve as instructors and mentors for the Summer Design-Build Workshop.  Two student-assistants, both former ACE students now studying in college, also worked with the students; they each received a $2,500 scholarship. 

Andrew Weiss, ALSA, lead park planner and landscape architect for the Champaign, Illinois, Park District, has been involved with the Workshop since its start and provides valuable landscape design expertise.  Lynn Hollenberg, ASLA, with Zero Landfill, Chicago, helped the team develop hardscape details for the classrooms and benches and spoke about past and future ASLA projects.

ASLA will work with ACE on a Legacy Project as part of the 2015 Annual Meeting and EXPO in Chicago. Find out more and how you can help.

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