Milwaukee Public School Playgrounds Are Going Green

New Playgrounds Benefit Both The Environment And Students' Well-Being

Milwaukee Public School green playground
Milwaukee Public Schools, like Starms Early Childhood pictured here, are working to transform their playgrounds into green spaces to help benefit the environment and the well-being of their students. Photo courtesy of MPS

Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) is working to transform their school playgrounds to benefit both the environment and the well-being of their students.

Three years ago, MPS partnered with multiple organizations and nonprofits to establish a multimillion-dollar investment into Milwaukee schools and neighborhoods. The Greener Healthier Schools Program is an ongoing program that will reduce pavement and create more green space at MPS schools.

Creating green space also allows additional playground improvements to be added like installation of bioswales that will help harvest rainwater and green infrastructure like trees and gardens.

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Photo courtesy of Milwaukee Public Schools

Photo courtesy of MPS

Justin Hegarty is the executive director of Reflo, a nonprofit organization in Milwaukee that works on community-based water projects.

Hegarty said that Reflo has been involved with the program since it’s inception and that their role is to help support the schools in finding conceptual plans for their playgrounds. They also lend a hand in supporting fundraising efforts and work with the school district to find engineers and architects to do the detailed design of the play grounds.

Hegarty said there are two main benefits to the program: environmental and social.

“The projects really start with managing stormwater where it falls,” Hegarty said. “This is through stormwater green infrastructure which is a high priority in the Milwaukee area.”

The infrastructure reduces how much stormwater goes into the local sewer system which can reduce flooding and helps combat sewer overflows into surrounding rivers and lake.

“That’s the environmental but then there’s the social benefit,” Hegarty continued. “Students are able to connect with these redevelopments and their curriculum.”

Hegarty said access to green space has benefits for social and emotional well-being.

Students from Starms Early Childhood look at their playground
Students from Starms Early Childhood look on as their playground is converted into a green playground. Photo courtesy of MPS

Multiple “green playgrounds” have already been built, and there are more planned for the future. According to the school district’s website, fundraising is still underway to support projects in 2020.

Bre Plier is the manager of sustainability for the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District, she said decreasing concrete is a major objective of the project.

“We are trying to work with schools to de-pave,” Plier said. “Not only to benefit stormwater but also give other benefits to the schools like outdoor classrooms, better play spaces, things that will help young minds grow.”

Plier said many of Milwaukee schools’ asphalt surfaces pool rain water that ends up going into the sewer system, causing off-flow and flooding.