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New Community Open Space Gets a Colorful Kickoff

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Students at Ross Elementary School in Lancaster, PA., proudly display their health-related artwork on a temporary fence that wraps around a demolition project in their neighborhood

For students at Ross Elementary School in Lancaster City, the daily commute to school is now an exciting walk of fame, thanks to a recent art project organized by Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health (LG Health).

In early February, demolition began at the former site of the Lancaster Family YMCA, where two vacant buildings are being removed to make way for a landscaped public space. Surrounding the construction site is chain-link fencing wrapped in artwork created by more than 250 students from the nearby school, representing kindergarten through fifth grade.

LG Health purchased the old YMCA property, located between Prince and Queen Streets in the neighborhood near Lancaster General Hospital, in 2005.

Logistics for the demolition project included securing the worksite with six-foot-high fencing. During the project’s planning phase last year, a member of LG Health’s Community Wellness team came up with the idea of reaching out to Ross Elementary and inviting its students to add their personal touch to the temporary fence by contributing images of good health.

“When neighbors walk by the fence and see hundreds of pictures of healthy foods, activities and practices drawn by every student at Ross Elementary, it helps to encourage, reinforce and validate the importance of living a healthy lifestyle,” said Sue Lackmann, a health educator at LG Health.

teacher and students

Students at Ross Elementary School in Lancaster, PA., proudly display their health-related artwork on a temporary fence that wraps around a demolition project in their neighborhood

Promoting Healthy Behaviors Through Art
LG Health’s Community Wellness department has a longstanding connection to the schools in Lancaster County. Health educators like Lackmann assist schoolteachers and administrators with the development of wellness policies and advise them on ways to ensure a healthy school environment, such as offering nutritious meals and adding physical activities into the daily schedule.

Lackmann also coordinates Botvin LifeSkills® Training at LG Health, a national, evidence-based prevention program that teaches children how to make good choices in life and reduce the risks of alcohol, tobacco, drug abuse, and violence. Last year, LG Health introduced LifeSkills to 41 Lancaster County schools—15 of those taught the program independently; LG Health facilitated or co-taught the other 26.

Lackmann joined Emily Betancourt, Ross Elementary’s art teacher, in December and brainstormed healthy habits and activities with the students.

“We came up with a different health-related theme for each grade level to draw—from fruits and vegetables, to exercise and daily activities, to avoiding drugs and tobacco,” said Betancourt. “After that, I just set them free and they came up with their own ideas.”

Betancourt took photos of each drawing and provided them to Lackmann, who had them screen-printed for the fence wrap.

Many of the students walk to school and look forward to showing off their work to friends and family.

“The kids are so excited! They were thrilled to have a chance to create their own artwork for the neighborhood, and they told me it was fun to have a chance to be famous,” Betancourt said. “I just think it’s a great opportunity to celebrate our students in the community that they live in.”

The Value of Purposeful Urban Open Spaces

The surrounding community will soon benefit from an open, two-block area with linear, meadow-like plantings alternating with lawn areas, benches and trees and that were chosen for year-round color. Accessible walkways will connect surrounding Prince, Market, Queen and Frederick Streets, and new lighting will be added both for aesthetic value and security.

proud students

Sculptured, four-foot-high landforms will also be established in three sections of the open space to add visual interest and an exploration/activity area for children. The mounds will break up flat, grassy areas that will be large enough for simple ball playing.

In addition to creatively engaging Ross Elementary, LG Health and Wohlsen Construction, the firm conducting the site work, held neighbor meetings to announce the demolition and to gather feedback on how the open green space could be used.

Growing research, including work at the University of Pennsylvania, suggests that creative use of urban open areas strengthens neighborhoods by promoting communal activity and likely discouraging crime. Vacant lots tend to signal poor neighborhood health, something LG Health and its neighbors equally wish to discourage.

“In the future, we will use this property to expand our health offerings in the community,” said Brenda Buescher, MPH, a Health Promotion Specialist at LG Health. “In the meantime, we wanted to do something with that space that would be useful to our neighbors and beautify what were abandoned buildings.”


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