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Idea grows to become fen garden at Marshall Middle School

| Wednesday, Aug. 6, 2014, 9:01 p.m.

What used to be a swampy section of North Allegheny School District's Marshall Campus now is a fen garden, created by eight of Marshall Middle School's former students.

“When the cross country team practiced, our feet would get muddy and soggy, and we'd get attacked by mosquitoes in that area,” said Mohammad Khatami of Franklin Park.

“Also, people would park their cars there for (school events) and they'd sink,” said Matthew Pitell, also of Marshall.

Matthew, 14, decided to develop a 6-foot-by-40-foot fen garden — a collection of cattails surrounded by hearty hydrangeas, water lilies and other plants native to the area that can absorb water from underground springs.

He began planning for the garden last August, when he was entering the eighth grade at Marshall Middle School.

He approached the principal, Cynthia Kainaroi, for her permission and then began seeking approvals from Marshall Township, the North Allegheny School Board, the school district facilities manager and utility companies that had buried lines and cables in the area.

Four months later, he recruited seven friends to help — including Mohammad; Andrew Wang, Alex Eggert and Colson Voss, all of Marshall Township; George Francic of Bradford Woods; and Chris Fedor and Noah Fenton, both of Franklin Park. All are 14 years old and will be entering the ninth grade at North Allegheny Intermediate High School.

They interviewed professionals about what types of plants would be best. They drew schematics for the garden. And they collected dragonfly larvae and minnows to help eliminate mosquitoes in the area.

They secured donations of gravel from Dragun's Landscape Supply in Franklin Park, peat moss from Lowe's Home Improvement in McCandless and an assortment of plants from Soergel Orchards in Franklin Park, the Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania in Fox Chapel and North Park's Latodami Nature Center.

To help pay for additional materials, Matthew and Chris played bass and piano duets as audiences filed into the Marshall Middle School auditorium for band and orchestra concerts. They laid Matthew's open bass case on the floor to collect monetary donations from the concert attendees and netted $28.

The North Allegheny Foundation contributed $150.

Tile Time in Marshall, owned by Matthew's father, Mike, contributed money, as well.

Lisa Pitell, Matthew's mother, said the project cost in money and in-kind donations was $500 to $1,000.

After revising their original plans to accommodate their budget and meet township and district regulations, the boys received permission at the end of June to move forward.

They broke ground on July 12 and shoveled and chiseled 2 feet deep into the soil and clay.

They completed the project July 20 after about 50 volunteer hours.

The Marshall Middle School Garden Club will maintain the garden.

“One of the biggest lessons we learned was how to be flexible,” Noah said. “We thought we'd have the garden done in a few months, but it took nearly a year.”

Their principal was impressed.

“They did their homework; they talked with botanical experts. They overcame a lot of obstacles and persevered over a long period of time to improve the appearance of our campus,” said Kainaroi, of Gibsonia. “Our motto here is, ‘Marshall Middle School — Where I Can Make a Difference.' The boys lived up to that motto.”

Laurie Rees is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.

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