The traditional eighth grade service project this year at St. Joseph Catholic School in Libertyville included strenuous labor under trying conditions.
But the result, which still needs finishing touches, replaces a long length of concrete in front of the school with a green landscape of mostly native trees and plants.
"It feels great because we know we're doing something good for the environment and it just makes the whole school look better not having all this concrete," said 13-year old John Graham of Libertyville.
John has pedigree with the environment. His late grandfather was F.T. "Mike" Graham, the longtime Libertyville Township Supervisor who was a sometimes controversial pioneer and stubborn champion of open space.
His dad, Mike Graham, a parishioner and executive with Landscape Concepts Management, envisioned and managed the $25,000 project for the 52-member class of 2018, who did 70 percent of the work. Costs were absorbed through in-kind labor and donations of services, materials and cash.
"There used to be a garden here (but) they filled it with concrete about 20 years ago," Graham said. "With all the flooding issues that Libertyville has experienced this summer and in the past, we thought it would be a good idea to convert this area over to green space."
The bulk of the work was done in two sessions. Professionals had broken up the concrete and last Saturday dozens of students worked for hours through a cold rain to load 20 tons of the chunks into wheelbarrows and cart them to a construction container for disposal.
"It was miserable," Mike Graham said. "It was pouring rain most of the time, and they kept on going."
Cool conditions on Thursday were benign in comparison as 22 students worked after school to substantially complete the project by planting drought tolerant, disease resistant, low-maintenance plants and trees.
The list included four Hophorn Beam trees, 156 containers of grasses and other plants and 200 daffodil bulbs.
"The clay is heavy. The rocks are heavy. We know we're doing a good thing so it's all fun in the end," John Graham said.
The traditional eighth grade service project is meant for students to improve the school in some way and leave it better than when they arrived.
"They have initiative and pride in their school and they were excited to do it," said religion teacher Theresa Unterfenger.
Mike Graham said the project is small but symbolic.
"It's giving back and making our little piece of St. Joseph's, that part of the Libertyville community, a better place and greener," he said.
• Gilbert Boucher II contributed to this report