Prairie plants mulled for former school lot

Toledo Zoo, TPS discuss South Toledo site

  • Newbury-Elementary-School

  • A vacant South Toledo lot where an elementary school once stood may be the next site of an attempt to reclaim parts of Toledo with native plants.

    Toledo Public Schools and the Toledo Zoo have held preliminary discussions to turn the former Newbury Elementary lot over to the zoo, which plans to plant native prairie habitat there.

    The idea is an extension of the Wild Toledo Prairie Initiative, a zoo project that started last summer with prairie plants in the median of the Anthony Wayne Trail and green space at the zoo.

    Jeff Sailer, executive director of the zoo, said the prairie plants provide habitat for bees, butterflies, and more, and also have deeper root systems than grass, reducing water runoff. The prairie habitat also requires little maintenance.

    “It’s combining conservation and cost savings,” he said.

    Mr. Sailer said the zoo hopes to plant prairie plants throughout the city, but thought TPS would be an obvious partner for the first community site. The former Newbury site is on Newbury Street just off Broadway. He said zoo officials noticed numerous vacant lots along Broadway; turning those lots into something useful and cutting maintenance costs just seemed to make sense.

    For TPS, the proposed arrangement would be both a cost savings and an educational opportunity, Business Manager Jim Gant said. The district pays about $7,000 annually to maintain the two-acre vacant lot.

    Students could potentially use the site as an outdoor classroom, where they could learn about biodiversity or ecology.

    “If I can reach a greater good and reduce our costs, it seems like a great idea,” Mr. Gant said.

    The district has been trying to sell, lease, or find new uses for the numerous vacant lots it maintains, a result of both school closures because of a declining student population and a massive building project that led to the demolition of schools throughout the city.

    A Toledo Board of Education committee today will discuss the proposed arrangement, which would turn over maintenance of the Newbury lot to the zoo for five years.

    Because there would be no construction on the site, TPS could take back control of the property if it needed the land.

    The arrangement is still in the discussion phase.

    Mr. Gant said he hoped to present a resolution to the board in the next few months.

    Contact Nolan Rosenkrans at: or 419-724-6086, or on Twitter @NolanRosenkrans.