Megan O’Neal receives the Dream Forward Award for work at the MLK Community Center. Presenting are Councilman Kevin Felder and MLK Center Manager Pamela Jones.

Over the Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend, Lake Highlands High 2006 grad Megan O’Neal was presented with the Dream Forward Award at the 37th Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Awards Gala in Dallas. The honor resulted from her efforts managing a water conservation and landscape beautification project for the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center in Fair Park.

O’Neal, a senior planner for Dallas’ Planning & Urban Design Department, was brought on to save the project when it looked like the mission might lose funding. She began doing technical research and writing and was quickly given the role of manager.

“The project is unique because we were able to partner with local non-profits to help make the native landscape thrive without irrigation long-term,” O’Neal said. “The Urban Forestry Advisory Committee donated use of their water truck, allowing Miles of Freedom to train [formerly incarcerated] individuals to hand water the landscape until it is established to handle the Texas heat without excess watering. Using a water truck also allowed us to tie into the Dallas Water Utilities fire hydrant flushing schedule to capture and reuse the water, rather than let it cycle directly into the storm-water/sewer system. Typically, Dallas Water Utilities has to flush out fire hydrants to maintain a safe level of pressure.”

More than 100 new trees have been added to the center’s grounds, over 2,150 native plants and more than 30 tons of stone. New walking paths have been added throughout the campus, and retention basins have been built to capture and re-use storm water. Additional trees around the amphitheater have created new gathering spaces.

“The MLK Center does so much for the greater Dallas community,” O’Neal told me. “They serve over 300,000 individuals every year through healthcare, education, childcare, recreation, senior and community services. The center is led by an inspiring team, and it was an honor working alongside many there to help make the project successful.”

Water conservation tips used on the MLK Center campus can be found here – no doubt helpful in our own households. The MLK Center plan can be seen here.