An educator’s dashed hope for a rooftop garden at Libertyville High School was the spark for a yard filled with prairie plants.
After Dave Lapish’s original idea became impractical and too expensive, he shifted gears with the idea of turning the grassy outdoor space of the principal’s office into an outdoor classroom.
On Monday, after five years of work, the school’s Prairies classroom was officially inaugurated. The area was used in various ways for about a year and became fully operational last spring.
“If there’s no class, there are students hanging out for lunch,” Lapish said. “It is regularly (used) by a variety of people for different reasons.”
A first dedication took place on May 25. Monday’s event was a formality to honor the efforts of hundreds of students and other volunteers, said Lapish, a recently retired English teacher and tennis coach and sponsor of the Libertyville Environmental Action Force.
When talks began in 2016, Principal Thomas Koulentes upped the ante to make it a fun place for students and the community, according to Lapish, and the official name changed to “The Prairie Classroom.”
After lengthy discussions with the students and school administration, the land was laid in 2019 to transform the sparsely used and underused courtyard into a garden with 19 native flowers and herbs. Among them is the master rattlesnake, a perennial plant whose name derives from the pioneers’ mistaken belief that its roots could be used as an antidote to a rattlesnake bite.
With the help of a local parent and landscaping manager, Mike Graham, the ground was plowed, plugs were planted and paved walkways were installed.
“Mike’s Bison” is a sculpture designed by 2022 graduate Jon Haug as a thank you to Graham. It stands on a pile of dolomite slabs in the middle of a small bluestem plot.
The first flowers bloomed in the spring of 2020 and cover approximately 5,000 square feet of the 7,000 square foot space. The classroom was built in the spring of 2021. Other new, divided and relocated plants were installed this spring.
Benches and a wall for seating are other features that come with the Gerlach Gazebo, named after Jeremy Gerlach and industrial education professor who helped create it for what was then called “Courtyard 4” in 2005 .
Student artists have since transformed the plywood ceiling into a gallery of natural landscapes.
Also in the mix is a 98 gallon fountain that will be solar powered. It is surrounded by a river rock apron, a gift from the class of 2020.