The Trinity Lutheran College professor began to imagine what it could look like instead.
A little more than a year later, the rooftop is becoming a place where children play, volunteers grow fresh vegetables and passersby escape the bustle of the city.
The college owns the garage at Wetmore Avenue and California Street. Ellingson, professor of Children, Youth and Family Studies, and professor Sue Houglum, Trinity's head of Early Childhood Education, are leading the effort to turn part of the rooftop into a community garden and gathering space.
It's a work in progress, though a lot has been accomplished already, Ellingson said.
Young trees and flowers grow in planter boxes, including a few slender willows waiting to be transplanted to a salmon stream. A couple of picnic tables offer a place to enjoy the view of the mountains on a clear day.
There is a sandbox Ellingson calls "the desert" and a small area called "the meadow," with tall grass and wildflowers. Children from Trinity's early learning center, who come to play here, like to lie in the grass.
Ellingson planted flowers and hanging vines in the containers along the wall. Flowers are visible from the street and, by the end of summer, the vines will cover the outside wall.
Lettuce, onions, peas, tomatoes and radishes grow in boxes in front of a small greenhouse and shed.
The food goes to Trinity's student meal program and to local food banks. Ellingson expects to give away hundreds of pounds of food this year to various programs.
The professors want to encourage other downtown property owners to make use of their rooftops.
"I don't see why other businesses downtown can't do this kind of thing," Ellingson said.
The college was awarded several grants to pay for the transformation.
Trinity students and local church groups come up to the garden to plant, weed and paint murals. One student painted a blue river across the entire space. It shows the life journey of salmon.
Nikki Viken was the Trinity student coordinator getting volunteers to work in the garden throughout the year. She helped organize work parties most Fridays as part of Trinity's service learning class.
Viken, 22, will be a junior this year and is studying early childhood education.
"You can go there and study, or you can go there and meditate and feel like you are in a natural setting," she said.
The garden is slowly becoming a part of students' lives -- and a part of the city. Viken said she has seen people from the community go up there for coffee.
"The more time and effort we put into it, the more people notice it," she said.
Viken hopes to open her own child care center in Tacoma, where she is from. She'd like to have a garden there.
Katya Yefimova: 425-339-3452, firstname.lastname@example.org.
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