As part of each schoolyard transformation, the Space to Grow team engages with the school community—including students, teachers, parents and community members—to see what elements they most want to see in a new schoolyard. By participating in fun activities and surveys, the school community highlights their priorities and votes on the elements they want to see in their new Space to Grow schoolyard.
The input from these meetings is given to the design team—which includes engineers and landscape architects—so they can create a schoolyard design that’s unique to each and every school. The proposed designs are then shared with the community and school, and feedback is gathered on the draft plans.
This process allows all school stakeholders to have input in the final design of the schoolyard and ensures the schoolyard will meet the unique needs of each school and their community.
At Arthur R. Ashe Elementary School in Chicago’s Chatham neighborhood, the community really wanted a garden area. “They wanted a lot of flowers and gardens, natural elements like that,” says Lara Rivera, project designer at Site Design Group, the firm designing the Ashe Space to Grow schoolyard.
Space to Grow is an innovative partnership led by HSC and Openlands to transform Chicago schoolyards into centers for outdoor learning, play and engagement with nature, while also addressing neighborhood flooding issues. Space to Grow is supported by capital funding and expertise from CPS, the Chicago Department of Water Management and the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago.
Last week, two different design concepts were presented for feedback. Each of the designs included native gardens and edible gardens that could be used by the school and open to the community. Some elements present in both designs are a track, sports fields, playground equipment and an outdoor classroom. “It’s helpful to have different concepts so people can see the possibilities.,” Rivera says.
The planning process really allows the designers to understand the specific needs of the community. “It’s great to come into a school and get a feel for the personality of the school,” says Rivera. “They’re all different.”
For example, Cook Elementary School has a popular chess program, so the design team worked hard to incorporate chess tables into the design of that schoolyard, which opened earlier this year.
Parent Latasha White is excited that the new schoolyard at Ashe will give her kids a new place to be active in the neighborhood. “This will give the kids a different option,” says White. “It will bring plenty of growth and greenery into the neighborhood.”
For Ashe Assistant Principal Dr. Jackson, the schoolyard transformation represents more than just a new place to kids to be active. “It’s a good thing for the school and for the neighborhood,” he says. “There can be a lot of doom and gloom, and this schoolyard can be a beacon of light.”