Franklin Elementary administrators and parents

Rebecca Gray, principal Vickie Atikian, Gillian Bonacci and Hilary Stern stand on the Benjamin Franklin Elementary playground on Friday, June 6, 2014. Gray and Bonacci and Stern were some of the parents in the school's foundation who applied for and received state funds to replace the asphalt playground with greenery and permeable surfaces. (Roger Wilson / Staff Photographer / June 6, 2014)

After working for more than a year, parents at Franklin Elementary secured a $1-million grant that will enable the campus to undergo an environmental transformation.

In November 2012, a handful of parents who send their children to the magnet school known for its dual-language immersion programs attended a workshop to learn how they could tap into state funds to improve Franklin’s campus.

The elementary school that sits 450 feet from the Golden State (5) Freeway has about 45,000 square feet of asphalt and a playground that lacks any significant shade.

The school originally opened in 1926, long before the 5 Freeway opened to commuters passing through Glendale in 1957. A 2003 law now prohibits districts from building campuses within 500 feet of a freeway, unless schools find ways to combat pollution.

In 2011, matters were made worse for Franklin’s students and staff when crews cut down dozens of nearby 30-foot-tall trees to clear the way for Caltrans’ expansion of the 5 Freeway.

Prior to their removal, the trees protected the campus from the 5 Freeway constant bombardment of carbon pollution.

“When they cut the trees down for the freeway, certainly [we were] saddened by that, but I don’t think we understood what the health risks were,” parent Gillian Bonacci said.

A Caltrans spokesperson said in 2011 that the trees would be replaced this year, and Franklin parents have since installed air filters in classrooms.

In November 2012, after attending a grant writing workshop, Bonacci, Hilary Stern and Rebecca Gray set their sights on securing a Urban Greening Grant for the school, hopeful to tap into Prop. 84 funds made available to communities across California to fund water-conservation and energy-use projects.

The parent-run Benjamin Franklin Elementary Foundation was just one of 37 groups across the state to win grant funds.

The foundation is also unique among fellow recipients, given that the majority of proposals were submitted by various cities or conservation authorities.

In the beginning, the lack of shade on campus was a driving force for the parents — a city report stated that the asphalt could reach 108 degrees, hot enough that students had to stay indoors sometimes.

“It started out being about shade, it ended up being about the neighborhood and the children’s health and to do our part in conservation,” Bonacci said.

The foundation won swift support from Glendale Unified, which partnered with them on the grant, along with Osborne Architects for the design and North East Trees for the landscaping.

With the grant, nearly 40 drought-resistant trees will be planted to shade the campus. Permeable surfaces will replace the asphalt with landscape features that will treat water run-off. Meandering paths will be built alongside rain gardens that will conserve water, and vine-planted fences installed.

Bonacci expects that crews could begin making improvements to Franklin’s campus in late 2015 or early 2016.

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Follow Kelly Corrigan on Twitter: @kellymcorrigan.

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