Neglected courtyard transformed into water-efficient outdoor classroom, native garden

In pairing water conservation with inspiration, a neglected courtyard at Cochran Elementary School in West Dallas, Texas, has been transformed into a water-efficient outdoor classroom and native garden that will be used to teach and delight thousands of students for years to come.

RIVERSIDE, CA, Oct. 2, 2015 -- In pairing water conservation with inspiration, a neglected courtyard at Cochran Elementary School in West Dallas, Texas, has been transformed into a water-efficient outdoor classroom and native garden that will be used to teach and delight thousands of students for years to come.

The 20,000-square-foot project was awarded to the school after the City of Dallas won the 2014 National Mayor's Challenge for Water Conservation -- a national community service initiative to promote efficient water use in all 50 states. The campaign is presented by the Wyland Foundation and Toyota North America, with support from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Toro Company and Dallas-based landscape firm Texas Land Care, among others.

The Cochran Elementary School project -- which officially broke ground on April 9, 2015, with Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings and EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy -- redesigned the school's interior courtyard with Texas native trees, plants and grasses, decomposed granite pathways, and low-cost, water-efficient irrigation and weather sensors. The new courtyard also includes a student garden for each grade level.

"This is a great example of how we can rethink the way that we use water in our communities," said artist Wyland, president of the Wyland Foundation. "Water conservation and maintenance are a big concern with schools in water-stressed areas. The Toro WaterSmart irrigation products that went into this project not only help stretch limited supplies of water, they were instrumental in facilitating a project that needed seamless automation to ensure its sustainability for years to come."

Despite record rainfall this summer, drought conditions still loom over much of Texas. The use of Texas native plants as part of the Cochran project means less fertilizer, reduced runoff and water pollution, lower maintenance needs, and an opportunity for students to learn about the Texas prairie and other associated plant communities as they tend their individual gardens. The plants for each garden were chosen by each grade level as a group project.

Robert Farnsworth, chair of horticulture and landscape design at Saddleback College in California, specializes in water-efficient design and provided design services for the project. Texas Land Care of Dallas and The Toro Company contributed installation services and irrigation, respectively, with underwriting for the project from the Wyland Foundation, Toyota and a grant from Melody and David Howell.

The drip irrigation system provided by Toro will establish the native plants and trees and sustain them in periods of severe rainfall shortage by applying water at ground level under a mulch layer that will protect against evaporation and wind. The system will be controlled by a Toro EVOLUTION controller and includes an on-site weather sensor that precisely adjusts watering based on weather conditions, eliminating unnecessary watering and restricting irrigation during rainy or frozen conditions.

As a result of the project, it is estimated that the school will save over 250,000 gallons of water each year versus a conventional irrigated lawn area. Prior to this, the school's courtyard relied only on rainwater that was not functional for use by the school. With minimal cost, it now becomes a multi-use landscape for students to nurture and discover for years to come.

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