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The area in front of the Buford Middle School gym is sporting a new look because Donna Moree just happened to be in the in right place at the right time.
Red clay and barren ground has been replaced by sod, stone pavers, planting beds, benches, mulch and a pergola with vine runners.
The project was funded through Home Depot’s Youth Garden Grants and completed just before the end of the school year. Teachers, staff, students, Home Depot volunteers and Amanda Roberts, district manager of Lancaster County Soil and Water District, did the work.
The whole thing started when Moree, former classworks administrator at BMS, was in the Lancaster Home Depot one Saturday during a children’s workshop.
Right now, Moree is completing her practice work in teaching science at Andrew Jackson Middle School.
“They were building planters,” Moree said. “I just happened to start talking to one of the employees who said she had been trying to figure out who to get in touch with at Buford Middle to partner up with us.
“That conversation led to me writing a mini grant to renovate the front of the gym,” Moree said. “We’re excited about how it turned out.”
One hundred grants were awarded in 2011, including the one for $1,100 at BMS. However, the grant wasn’t a freebie.
BMS Principal Sheri Wells said the 500-plus middle school students raised funds through a dress-down day in the 2010-11 school year. Students who wanted to chip in didn’t have to abide by the school dress code for the day.
But that money was not used to fund the landscaping project at Buford. It was given to Home Depot in “pay-it-forward” fashion.
“Our students donated $1 each to help with similar projects at other schools,” Wells said.
Now exclusively used for sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders, the Buford Middle School campus was built in 1956 for grades seven through 12. Since that time, there have been several construction upgrades in 1959, 1970, 1995 and 2003. Wells said the gym was built in 1970.
“To be honest, until now, that area in front of the gym was nothing more than red dirt,” Wells said. “It needed some help. One of the things that came out of this is how the kids are protecting what was fixed. When they put that kind of work into it, our students have taken ownership of it.”
The new landscaping has also spurred several other beautification projects on the school campus, including adding a school rock.
Roberts said the school was also awarded a $500 grant from the S.C. Soil and Water Society to landscape the front entrance.
Moree said a second Home Depot grant will be used to add six picnic tables in the courtyard between the new school wing and gymnasium.
“We’d like to get ‘The Bee’ (a Bob Doster sculpture) cleaned and sandblasted,” Wells said. “He’s not aged well.”
Wells said the outcome shows what happens when businesses partner with schools.
“In the big picture, $1,100 here and $500 there might not seem like very much, but I can tell you it is,” Wells said. “Every penny counts.
“It makes a difference for kids to come into a place that’s warm and inviting,” she said. “We can’t do things like this by ourselves. The only way they’re going to happen is when businesses step us to help us.”