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10,000 square feet of asphalt is no match for army of de-paving volunteers

Volunteer Chris Karnes hauls a wheelbarrow full of asphalt Saturday morning during Pierce Conservation District's Depave project at Holy Rosary Bilingual Academy in Tacoma.
Volunteer Chris Karnes hauls a wheelbarrow full of asphalt Saturday morning during Pierce Conservation District's Depave project at Holy Rosary Bilingual Academy in Tacoma. The News Tribune

The principal of Holy Rosary Bilingual Academy couldn't exactly say what the 10,000 square feet of blacktop was used for.

Extra parking, soccer field, freeway buffer? Mainly, it was a big black patch of nothing, according to principal Katie Dempsey.

By Saturday night it was all gone — chopped up by machines and picked up and hauled away by 75 sweaty volunteers.

In the coming months, it will be transformed into a nature garden with shade trees and a grassy playing field. The space will also provide a barrier to air and noise pollution from Interstate 5, which passes adjacent to the school, Dempsey said.

The Holy Rosary effort is the latest "Depave" project organized by the Pierce Conservation District.

The $80,000 project — paid for with grants — is the sixth and biggest such project organized by the district, said executive director Ryan Mello.

Along with creating green space, the projects prevent or reduce water from entering the city's storm drain system unfiltered, Mello said.

Dempsey said the large, blacktop area funneled storm water through the center of campus.

"If you came even during a decent rain you'd see a literal river that comes down here," Dempsey said.

Half of Saturday's volunteers were from the school and the other half were affiliated with the conservation district, other groups or just people wanting to help.

"They love just to rip up things, legally," Mello said. "We have a lot of returning volunteers. It's just fun."

The lot looked like a storm-tossed sea of asphalt Saturday as the crowd quickly removed the 5-inch thick sections.

"We could have just hired a contractor and gotten this done," Mello said. But the volunteer efforts bind the community to the project, he said. Another benefit of doing the work by hand: The 150 tons of asphalt can be recycled.

Melissa Kennedy has three kids at the school. She helped remove 5,000 square feet of pavement in 2017 during phase one of the project, and she was at it again on Saturday.

"The cool thing about this is that it's the parents and community out supporting the school," Kennedy said. "We all have the same mission: to take care of the community and our kids."

Kaci Pike, 13, has no ties to the school. The teen lives in Lakewood.

"Community means a lot to me," Pike said. "Even though this isn't my community, I do know a lot of people who are part of it."

Volunteer Chris Karnes said he volunteered for the project to help the environment and his community.

"The kids are going to get a soccer field out of this," as he took a break from running wheelbarrows full of asphalt chunks. "And it's actually a good workout."

There is a downside, he said, but an educational one.

"It gives you an up close and personal look at how dirty asphalt really is," Karnes said.

Craig Sailor: 253-597-8541, @crsailor
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