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Help of the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh campus community is being enlisted for a massive project to freshen 18 Oshkosh Area School District building sites.

UW Oshkosh alumna Beth (Whealon) Wyman, ‘81, ‘93 MBA, chair of Oshkosh4Education, said the city’s education commission learned the schools needed some TLC, so they decided to create a curb appeal project campaign–called Project Curb.

Oshkosh4Education is the largest community engagement project in support of the public education undertaken in Oshkosh and is a continuation of a visioning and branding initiative launched in 2009. It is directed by a committee that includes representatives of UW Oshkosh, the Oshkosh Area Community Foundation, Oshkosh Area School District, Chamber of Commerce, City of Oshkosh, Fox Valley Technical College and other community partners.

As part of Project Curb, hundreds of volunteers will be called upon from 8 a.m. to noon Saturday, Sept. 23, for tasks that include freshening planters and beds with new plants and mulch, planting trees and re-painting playground pavement markings. The large community project will go on, rain or shine.

“The project really started with Oshkosh4Education,” Wyman said. “We kept hearing that the referendum put money into schools but that they were not as fresh and not as attractive as they could be. We heard from Realtors that home purchasing decisions were based on what the school looks like from the street.”

If the “front door” of a building looks shabby, the perception follows to the doings of the inside of the building. Focus groups said the exteriors of schools aren’t inviting and not neighborhood-friendly.

Wyman said the average age of the Oshkosh school buildings is 78 years. Many older buildings, she said, are surrounded by a lot of asphalt and concrete.

“So what can we do to make them welcoming for teachers, students and their families and guests?”

New plants will look good and require less maintenance. The goal is to bring the landscaping to a more functional state that requires less hand work. Plans also are in the works for benches, picnic tables and basketball hoops to be added at some of the schools.

Lisa Mick, grounds superintendent at UW Oshkosh, got involved with the project because she works on a campus with great curb appeal–a point of pride for Mick.

To get started, she personally visited the public school sites and is now working on individual landscaping plans for the nine locations needing the most improvements.

Some of the plants to be added are spirea, daylilies, asters, peonies, sedum and Shasta daisies.

Mick says she wants plants to be attractive for more than one season and to be low-maintenance and hardy varieties. Overgrown and dead plants will be removed prior to the Sept. 23 main event.

Lisa Mick

“We don’t want to believe first impressions are the go-to,” Mick said, “but drive by a house that has weeds and overgrown plants.”

“A Realtor told us people believe if owners don’t care enough to take care of the outside, they probably don’t care about the inside.”

It’s hoped that the project will prompt parents of students (and prospective students) to check out the inside of the school buildings, take pride in the schools and become involved.

Bill Sturm, City of Oshkosh forester, worked with Mick in the assessment of the school properties.

“What Lisa and I did was visit each property and did an assessment of existing landscape and made suggestions for those sites,” he said. “We suggested different landscaping improvements that could be done by groups.”

Sturm said if ash trees are present, they suggested other species be planted and noted locations that need pruning or tree removal. Some of the newer schools had professional landscaping installed but many of the older sites haven’t been updated in years.

City administration has given its blessing to the project and Sturm says the city is doing what it can to improve the look outside some of the schools, with new terrace trees and repainted crosswalks. He noted a “big planting” was done in the vicinity of Washington School, with around 30 terrace trees.

“Really, it’s been an effort everyone pulled together on,” Sturm said. “I’m really impressed with the organization the event has had to this point.”

Sturm called the beautification effort a nice intersection of the schools, city, university, city foundation and numerous volunteer groups.

“Everyone has a vested interest in creating a beautiful community that is inviting…” he said.

How to help

UW Oshkosh students will be helping out in the weeks preceding the community project day, delivering materials, doing prep work and managing some of the sites. Hundreds of volunteers will be needed from 8 a.m. to noon, Saturday, Sept. 23.