Vandals 'destroy' Philadelphia school's acre garden

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Tire tracks have destroyed the garden grounds at Lankenau High School in Philadelphia.

Students and instructors at an Upper Roxborough school found an unexpected and unpleasant addition to their expansive garden this week: Tire tracks that destroyed much of the acre-sized grounds.

Someone, possibly with a truck or ATV, drove over the grounds at Lankenau High School, ruining the soil, plants and flowers and sending the school into shock and on the hunt for help to repair the garden.

"Everything was basically destroyed," said Jessica Newton, a senior at the magnet high school at 201 Spring Lane, which describes itself as the "country campus for the college bound" due to its wooded location near the Montgomery County border.

The student body is heavily involved in the vegetable, fruit, flower and rain gardens on campus, with about 25 percent of students working on the gardens on any given day, teacher Meredith Joseph said. Much of work cultivated over the past five-plus years has been thanks to donated money and materials, which means restoring the ground will be difficult.

"We do not have the money to repair this," said Joseph, who estimated that the damage calculated thus far exceeded $12,000. "It took us years to build it."

Students are focusing their efforts on reaching out to alumni, soliciting donations and spreading the word of their plight.

"We're proud of them," Principal Karen Dean said. "They take ownership here. They're hurt by what happened and they want to make sure it doesn't happen again."

Lankenau students and staff said they had contacted police, and were also working with the school district to look into better securing the property.

Rakai Richardson said she was stunned when she walked in the destroyed gardens.

"I thought, 'Who would do this to our school?'" she said. The senior was among those starting to call local landscaping companies and other businesses Friday to ask for help.

"I care about the land," she said. "I want somebody to help us restore it. This is not something to look past."

After being contacted by the students, City Controller Alan Butkovitz urged city departments to offer assistance or equipment to the school.

"It appears large vehicles unlawfully drove erratically throughout the open space and destroyed the property," he wrote in a letter to the Streets and Parks and Recreation commissioners. "Furthermore, it is profound that anyone would damage public grounds that the students maintain for various green initiatives such as community gardens and landscaping programs."

The school is seeking donations and materials that include land graders, barriers, plants and flowers indigenous to the area, raised flower beds, benches, dividers and other structures. Anyone wishing to help can call the school at 215-487-4465 or donate online through the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society at pennhort.net/lankenau.