Height Green Schoolyard
Trust for Public Land
New Orleans, Louisiana
2020 ASLA Louisiana Honor Award for General Design: Built
The Dorothy Height Charter School Green Schoolyard and Stormwater & Nature Center project consists of a master plan for the entire 5-acre school site as well as three phases of project design and installation from the plan. The master plan and its strategies for the site respond to the needs of both the school and community for spaces for recreation, walking trails, educational enrichment, and stormwater management.
The need for green infrastructure at Height is two-fold, stemming from the lack of parks and green spaces in the area as well as the acute flooding that occurs in the streets surrounding the school. Many people in urban settings lack access to safe, high-quality parks and green spaces. This is often the case in New Orleans, and especially true for the Algiers neighborhood, where Dorothy Height Charter School is located. In addition to the lack of nearby parks and green spaces, the streets surrounding Height Charter School are very prone to flooding, rendering them impassable and parking precarious. Rain also results in severe flooding of the campus. This schoolyard is left a flooded, soggy mess for days after the rain has ceased.
Before - The Schoolyard after a typical summer rain.
After - A rain garden in the schoolyard acts as an educational tool and vital stormwater management infrastructure.
The design team completed the master plan which included components such as a green playground, Educational Stormwater Center, and athletic field that can do double duty as stormwater storage. The project included an extensive Participatory Design process which involved a 7-week series of design workshops with students and teachers from Height in which they learned about the design process, architectural drawings, and green infrastructure. The students then produced ideas and drawings for their future schoolyard which informed the final designs. The design envisioned that the space would provide students from the Crescent City Schools network, other neighboring schools, and the surrounding community with a space that would be accessible to students during the school day, for play and educational purposes, as well as available to the general public during non-school hours for recreational purposes. In Fall 2017, the completed phase one green schoolyard and playground was unveiled as the first in New Orleans to incorporate sustainability and water management into its design.
The Height Green Schoolyard demonstrates how stormwater management can be integrated with active play space and become an educational asset for a campus. Rather than treating drainage infrastructure as simply a means to an end, this project demonstrates an opportunity for students to interact with water in a fundamentally different way. The project simultaneously addresses the need to create opportunities for play and the need to improve the drainage in the school’s yard. The site consists of an innovative wood playground, rain gardens, a chalkboard wall, benches, and bold-colored painted stripes on the existing basketball court.
The Height School Stormwater & Nature Center consists of a rainwater detention pond, rain gardens, boardwalk, and native trees and plantings, all of which will help mitigate the ﬂooding that historically has occurred when heavy rains fall on the site. SMM’s design ensured that all aspects of the project were sustainable. Soil that was unearthed during the construction process was used to build two hills for students to enjoy. The two decaying trees on site that were cut into large logs for scholars to interact with and observe within the wetland habitat.
SMM also worked with the school to tie in grade-level learning objectives to the signage created for the Center so that students can use the Stormwater and Nature Center to increase their knowledge and understanding of various subjects.
SOUL donated 40 trees to the project, and the Louisiana Green Corps team helped with the planting of 10,000 plants on the site.
Educational opportunities are built into every aspect of the Stormwater and Nature Center. Scholars will learn how the detention pond, native plantings, and varying elevations not only create a natural outdoor amphitheater but also how green infrastructure beneﬁts the city as a whole. For older students, there are signs that provide information about stormwater from a national perspective, as well as at regional, city, and site levels. For younger scholars, SMM designed and inserted playful metal creatures throughout the space as part of a scavenger hunt game. Teachers also have access to a live data monitoring platform which captures real-time data relating to the soil and water on the site, which can be incorporated into lessons.
Real-time data produced from sensors at the Stormwater and Nature Center. The site is accessible to teachers.