Innovative Contractor Partners with Local Elementary School

by Linda Coors on March 28, 2014

Bruss Landscaping Come Alive Outside Action Guide MeetingAs one of the first companies in the country to complete the Come Alive Outside Action Guide, a nine-week, in-house training curriculum to help groups embrace the Come Alive Outside movement and take the next action steps in their communities, Bruss Landscaping in Wheaton, Illinois, is about to kick-off their “Come Alive Outside” initiative to design and build an outdoor classroom at Whittier Elementary School. Groundbreaking is scheduled for Wednesday, April 2nd and the Bruss team is energized and excited to get started.

The planned courtyard garden and interactive outdoor learning space will provide students with hands-on opportunities for problem solving, regular contact with nature, an awareness of environmental issues, and increased levels of physical activity.

Bruss worked with school officials and volunteers to design an engaging space that would allow for formal education (seated in a traditional format) and informal exploration. Specific programming goals called for kid-friendly equipment and facilities where children could learn how vegetables are grown, how composting works, how eco-systems function and change through the seasons, and about local flora and fauna, all in an active and fresh-air environment.

The outdoor classroom can accommodate 32 children and includes a picnic space for faculty and students. Children will be able to earn “lunch outdoors” and interact with teachers in a way that breaks the norm of a typical classroom. Carrie Dorn, Whittier Courtyard Garden Committee Chairperson, has worked closely with Bruss Landscaping designer Mike Kehl since October of last year to finalize the plans. “We’re incredibly grateful for the work Bruss is doing,” says Dorn.

Bruss Rendering of Outdoor Classroom

3-D rendering of outdoor classroom space

The landscape plan for the courtyard space includes raised planters for vegetable gardening, bench seating for lecture classes, work tables for hands-on lessons, a variety of plant types for both sun and shade locations, as well as paths and structures made of natural materials that encourage movement and engage the senses. Dorn will be taking “before” photographs this week and added that they hope to be harvesting vegetables by August.

Bruss Design of Outdoor ClassroomSite layout and initial construction of the pathways, referred to as the Discovery Walk, are set to begin the first week of April with Bruss Landscaping donating the labor and use of its equipment. Construction materials are being donated by Lurvey Landscape Supply which helped found the CAO Chicago group and brought Bruss into the project. Dwayne Ulrichs, Director of Sales at Lurvey, remarked on the long-standing relationship between Lurvey and Bruss, and the company’s interest in joining the CAO Chicago Action Team. “We met Mike Kehl from Bruss last year when he signed up for the 9-week CAO training program. Their commitment to the movement says a lot about them as an organization.”


After excavation and site preparation, Bruss will install eight tons of ‘Fossil Creek’ stepping stones and two tons of limestone screenings to create the garden paths. The materials were chosen for their durability, low-maintenance, and eco-friendly qualities. Future phases will include the construction and installation of:
  • 6 raised planters
  • 14-15 benches
  • 2-4 picnic tables
  • Over 100 plants
  • Arbor and trellis
  • Rain collection barrels
  • Vegetable garden
  • Shade garden
  • Butterfly garden

“As landscape professionals, we have the most immediate ability to create these types of spaces,”says Bruss landscape designer Mike Kehl, the project manager. “With childhood obesity on the rise and the increase of technology we often find ourselves and our kids indoors. This garden presents opportunities for kids to explore the outdoors, be hands-on, and learn practical lessons.”

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