From an asphalt parking lot to a brand new schoolyard and outdoor classroom, what a transformation!
Since 1995, the Boston Schoolyard Initiative has been improving urban schoolyards by introducing the outdoor classroom concept and active play schoolyards. Warner Larson Landscape Architects completed the Oliver Hazard Perry School in 2010 through a collaborative design effort involving the school faculty, students, parents and the local community.
Taking inspiration from the strategic seaside location with views of Boston Harbor, Warner Larson’s design focuses on bringing the Harbor Islands experience to this small urban lot by incorporating a maritime theme with a design that’s innovative, educational and sustainable.
The playground equipment (Playworld Systems) is a Playweb Climber with net, a climbing wall, Round-About (new take on monkey bars) and Explorer Buttons, the little elevated steppers.
Limited space and budget constraints were the main challenges the designers faced to incorporate all the key elements provided by the Boston Schoolyard Initiative’s program, and the community’s needs for play and physical education space.
The design makes effective use of the site by consolidating the required parking along the sides of the building and creating one large contiguous safe schoolyard. The schoolyard includes a large open area for sports, structured play areas per age group and education components throughout.
In keeping with the Harbor Islands theme, blue waves are painted across the open paved area. The structured play areas are the islands. Connecting the islands is an elliptical fitness and educational discovery loop. The track marked with one-meter measurements allows students to develop their math skills along with aerobic activities. Ten laps equals one kilometer. Stroll along the track and you will discover the different seashore creatures and learn about the phases of moon, which are painted on the pavement.
A ship’s bow navigates through seas of varying blue wave patterns. The poured-in-place rubber surfacing is atop the existing asphalt paving.
The web climber and the rock-climbing wall represent historic Fort Warren, which is on George’s Island at the entrance to Boston Harbor. The students love the challenge of climbing to the top, and it helps build their upper body strength. The climbing area also plays a social role as a gathering place. Take a hop to Deer Island (it’s namesake is also in Boston Harbor) where younger children discover a custom design play boat with talking tubes and balance beam, letting their imagination go on sailing adventures. Those seeking explorative, educational play, meander along the path through the seashore plantings, which leads to a lookout point (site of a future telescope) representing Spectacle Island, yet another namesake in the Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area. The lookout is surrounded by boulders engraved with inspiring words.
The educational opportunities of the outdoor classroom extend to all curriculums. There are program components of woodland and meadow areas, and tools such as an armature, weather gauges, a sundial and vegetable planters.
The maritime theme is continued with two prominent custom installations: classroom seating (curved rows of posts forming part of a large sail boat completed with the bow worktable and flagpole as the mast), and a custom lighthouse that conceals a storage shed as a sculptural focus of the schoolyard.
The rubberized track, a 300-ft. circumference, has incremental markings painted every 10 feet. Five artistic cutouts of sea creatures are mounted to the 4-ft. welded metal fence (Omega II).
Sustainability is represented throughout the design: capturing and redirecting stormwater runoff through surface swales; use of recycled and locally sourced materials for custom construction; reuse of onsite earth in shaping grades; and site appropriate native planting with composting. And most important, the teachers have incorporated these into their curriculum so the students absorb the value of being green, while having fun and playing with their imagination!
The testament to the success of this project is seeing the excitement and sense of wonder from all who experience this new space. What better way to share this feeling than with this excerpt from a wonderful poem by a student from the school!
Playground and Outdoor Classroom
by Brandon Robinson
As I entered the schoolyard, I couldn’t believe my eyes
A big climbing structure almost touching the skies
I see a basketball hoop, a kickball mound
And so much room to play
I climb the rock-climbing walls
As I get to the top I say…
This schoolyard is awesome
And also the best, I knew until the end of the year
I would never give it rest
When it’s time to go in
I hope I could stay
Then I think again
There will always be another day
Owner: Boston Public Facilities Depart.
Landscape Architect: Warner Larson, Inc.
Contractor: JT Construction, Inc.
Photography: Sameer Bhoite, Julio Cedano
Playground equipment: Playworld Systems, Inc.
Site Furnishings: Victor Stanley, Inc., DuMor, Inc.
Fencing: Omega II Fence Systems
Plant materials: Bigelow Nurseries, Inc.
Color surfacing: New England Sealcoating, Inc.