PORTAGE PARK — O.A. Thorp Scholastic Academy Principal Efren Toledo does not mince words when describing the empty landscape that surrounds the selective enrollment Portage Park school.
"The east side of the school where the asphalt is looks so hideous," Toledo said. "We have to get some green out there."
Work is set to begin Monday to turn the school's barren asphalt landscape into a learning garden, thanks to a grant from The Learning Kitchen and the city.
Toledo said he is thrilled that work will finally start on the school's $2 million campus plan, which includes a state-of-the-art playground and soccer field.
"It is nice to see some progress," Toledo said.
That has prompted Thorp parents to take matters into their own hands and begin raising money and applying for grants to get the playground built sooner.
"We will get a playground in some form or fashion," said Lisa Weisenberger, whose daughter is in second grade at the school.
Having a playground is the one piece that is missing in the effort to make O.A. Thorp, 6024 W. Warwick Ave., one of the top schools in Chicago, Weisenberger said.
"I know we're not the only school in this situation with no playground equipment," Weisenberger said. "But it is a safety concern."
Initially, district officials told Toledo the school would not get the learning garden grant, worth about $15,000, because schools welcoming students displaced by the closure of 54 schools mostly on the south and west sides would be given priority.
Students will not only plant the fruits and vegetables but also harvest them — and eat them at the school, which covers an entire city block, Toledo said.
"It is a great learning opportunity for our students," Toledo said.
Thorp's campus park plan calls for separate play areas for students in kindergarten and first grade and one for second- through fourth-graders. In addition, a grassy field for soccer and other sports, benches and an improved running track are on tap.
Thorp is one of only three schools on the Northwest Side that do not have playgrounds, district records show. It has a "Level 1" (excellent) performance rating, CPS' highest, and the school enrolled 20 more students this school year than last.