With the creation of a new outdoor learning environment, Chester Arthur School is redefining the traditional schoolyard model. As the recipient of a $1.2 million grant from the William Penn Foundation and a stormwater grant from the Philadelphia Water Department, renovations to this urban public school concentrated on translating the school’s STEM curriculum for outdoor learning. SALT Design Studio developed a series of educational labs to transform the asphalt schoolyard into a dynamic arena for studying habitat, systems, motion and energy. The renovated schoolyard offers hands-on opportunities for teachers to bring STEM outdoors, giving students the chance to experience learning in the landscape.
A critical design move was reorienting the existing on-site parking to create a new schoolyard entry at a prominent pedestrian corner. A curving walkway from the new entry passes through a lush, native young woodland. Along the walk is an outdoor classroom, interactive water wall and rain gardens for play and learning. Stormwater is managed through multiple bioretention areas in the landscape, and through porous paving in the parking lot. The walkway continues past a large artificial turf berm, which serves as an additional outdoor classroom, as well as an amphitheater for community events outside of school hours. A multi-use court is transformed with colorful pavement paint, marking an analemmatic sundial, where children use their bodies to tell time with the sun. Adjacent to the school, a new play area features an innovative, custom climbing structure for outdoor experiments, raised beds for garden trials and a green wall for passive cooling of the building.