A work of art and nature: Prairie Classroom officially dedicated at Libertyville High
An educator's dashed hope for a rooftop garden at Libertyville High School was the spark for a courtyard filled with prairie plants.
After Dave Lapish's original idea became impractical and too expensive, he switched gears with the thought of transforming the grassy open-air space off the principal's office into an outdoor classroom.
On Monday, after five years in progress, the high school's Prairie Classroom officially was dedicated. The area has been 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's regularly being (used) by a variety of people for different reasons."
An initial dedication was held 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 discussions began in 2016, Principal Thomas Koulentes upped the ante to make this a place for students and the community to enjoy, according to Lapish, and the official name became "The Prairie Classroom."
After extended discussions with students and school administration, ground was broken in 2019 to transform the weedy, little-used courtyard into a garden with 19 native flowers and grasses. Among them is the rattlesnake master, a perennial whose name originates from the erroneous belief of pioneers that its roots could be used as an antidote to a rattlesnake bite.
With the help of local parent and landscaping executive Mike Graham, the ground was tilled, plugs were planted and paver pathways were installed.
"Mike's Bison" is a sculpture designed by 2022 graduate Jon Haug as a thank you to Graham. It stands on a stack of dolomite slabs amid a patch of little bluestem.
The first flowers bloomed in spring 2020 and cover about 5,000 square feet of the 7,000-square-foot space. The classroom was built in spring 2021. More new, divided and relocated plants were installed this spring.
Benches and a sitting wall are other features that accompany Gerlach's Gazebo, named for Jeremy Gerlach and industrial education teacher who helped create it for what was then called "Courtyard 4" in 2005.
Student artists since have 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's surrounded by an apron of river rock, a gift from the Class of 2020.