Hundreds of parents, students and community members are expected to man hoes, rakes, shovels and other equipment at the Community-Wide School Beautification Day, Saturday, April 3.
"We have about four to six projects per school that have been worked out and will be done that day," Cari Day, chairperson of the Payson School Beautification Committee, said.
Typical is a project at Payson Elementary School.
"We are changing out from grass to desert landscaping in front," PES Principal Roy Sandoval said, "so we put in a plastic barrier and granite and big boulders. We have a list of dry land plants and people are going to be bringing plants and helping us plant them. People are bringing shovels and rakes."
School Beautification Day runs from 8:30 a.m. to noon, with a picnic catered by Macky's Grill following at Frontier Elementary School to recognize donors and volunteers.
The event is part of a concerted effort by Day's committee, whose slogan is "Creating a quality environment for a quality education," to provide Payson Unified School District schools with a facelift. With the state ranking 48th in school funding, little money is available in the PUSD budget for beautification.
With the support of Superintendent Herb Weissenfels, Day and Payson Regional Economic Development Director Scott Flake launched the committee as a citizens' initiative.
"We want our kids to be proud of our schools," Day said. "Let's make them a better place for our kids and for our teachers, make them want to come to work."
The committee first interviewed all the PUSD principals, asking them to prioritize their individual school's needs, and to rank the schools in order of overall need.
"You have no idea how difficult (prioritizing) has been," Day said. "One of our meetings was three-and-a-half hours long just trying to sort through it."
On one point, however, there was unanimous agreement -- the committee decided to focus its initial efforts on the exterior appearance and grounds of RCMS.
"Not only is it the middle school, but it's kind of in the middle of things geographically," Flake said. "It's one that we thought we could potentially make a big difference."
The committee has drawn up a two-page list of improvements that need to be made to the RCMS exterior. They range from moving the bike racks from the front of the school, to replacing and widening sidewalks, to screening a transformer with landscaping.
One project already completed at RCMS, covering a dirt embankment with rock, is typical of the kinds of projects the committee is undertaking and of some intangible benefits as well.
"The fun thing about it is the involvement of the kids," Day said. "The neat thing about the hill beside the middle school is that we didn't use a tractor for that; we used a chain gang of kids putting rock on that hill."
A key consideration in choosing projects is that they not create additional maintenance issues or use excessive amounts of water.
"It is going to be a maintainable beautification," Day said. "If somebody goes in and plants all these nice flowers, then they have to be watered," Flake said.
"Our goal is something like what they've done at the college: xeriscape something that is very maintainable," Day added.
Besides volunteers, Day is looking for donations -- especially of materials and labor. So far the community has responded.
"Me and a few of my able assistants have been hitting the streets raising funds," she said. "We've also been getting granite, gravel and concrete and other materials donated.
"We've been getting everything donated. The people of the community have helped so much you can't even believe it."
Now that it's started, the committee realizes that the scope of the undertaking is enormous. But Flake believes Payson is at a stage as a community where the condition of its schools needs to be addressed.
"We're kind of in our adolescence," he said. "We're at that awkward age trying to decide what we want to be when we grow up.
"We've got a new college that looks great with all this potential. We've got a beautiful new library over here. We're kind of rising out of the ashes so to speak, but our schools are behind."
For more information, contact Jennifer Baker at (928) 472-9309. To sign up for the Community-Wide School Beautification Day, contact Baker or your school.
To make a cash donation, send a check made payable to PUSD to Macky's Grill, 2222 S. Beeline Highway, Payson, AZ 85541.