ENGLEWOOD —An alternative high school that opened in August will have its own public garden built this summer for students, staff and residents to enjoy.
The Excel Academy of Englewood, 7141 S. Morgan St., received City Council approval Wednesday for $128,000 to be used for the construction of an almost three-fourths of an acre garden in the school's rear parking lot.
The money will pay for design, asphalt removal, artwork, growing beds and benches. Excel is a contract school operated by Camelot Education. Its 375 students are 16-21 years old.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Thursday that the garden would provide a host of opportunities for students.
"Gardens prepare our students for success in the classroom and beyond by instilling an appreciation of interactive learning and biology and also by creating a strong nutritional foundation that will serve them their entire life," he said. "I'm excited that students at Excel Academy will have access to fresh produce, open space and a proven program to improve student achievement and healthy living habits."
Equally excited about the garden is Anthony Haley Jr., director of operations for Excel.
"This garden will allow our students to earn community service hours, which are required to graduate," Haley said. "One reason we want this garden is to show students how to take care of something and to provide them with a new job skill."
The goal is to put vacant land to productive use and to stabilize Englewood, said Peter Strazzabosco, a spokesman for the mayor.
"The city owns 15,000 vacant lots, and those could be used to help build up neighborhoods," Strazzabosco said. "Englewood has an abundance of vacant lots that could be used for urban agriculture, housing and commercial development."
Englewood could have 10 acres of commercial farming in the next couple of years, Strazzabosco said
U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.), whose district includes portions of Englewood, praised the mayor for promoting more urban gardens.
"What Mayor Emanuel is doing is taking the steps in the right direction to address the desperate need for fresh produce and more food options in the Englewood community," Rush said.