School Landscaping Ideas
The school complex should appear to be a unified development, not a haphazard collection of buildings, play fields, and parking lots. To achieve this, the landscape architect will use the site survey plan in locating the various facilities you have decided to incorporate in your school complex on the site. The relationship between the building and the space surrounding it should be developed using appropriate landscape elements such as plantings, ground surfacing materials depending on the intended use of the area, and fences, walls, steps, and permanent outdoor furniture.
The functions of various facilities in the school complex must be considered when they are located on the site. Thus, service areas where there may be distracting activity and noise should be separated from the classroom area. Outdoor play and recreation areas should also be located so that the noise does not interfere with study in classrooms. However, playgrounds for smaller children may be located close to the building so that the children can be easily supervised. It is a good idea to separate playgrounds and fields according to activity and the age level of the children who will use them. All recreation areas must be separated from pedestrian and automobile traffic. If a playground is adjacent to a street, some kind of barrier should be placed between the two.
Outdoor classrooms and study areas should also be located away from noisy playgrounds. These study areas may be placed close to the classroom area so that in good weather children may leave the building to study outdoors. Such areas should be equipped with benches and should be surfaced. Trees for shade and plantings for screening and privacy are also desirable.
Natural features on the site such as wooded areas and rock outcroppings should be preserved and made easily accessible. They are a great aid in education because they give children an opportunity for direct contact with nature and enable them to understand nature and natural phenomena better. Retention of trees and shrubs on the site and proper selection and placement of new plantings also provide a visual screen, give shade, reduce noise, separate different kinds of activities, provide a pleasing contrast with the architectural elements of the site, and generally give a feeling of pleasure and pride to pupils, teachers, and the entire community. Your landscape architect will advise you on how best to use the natural features of the site and what new plantings to consider. In doing this, he or she will be concerned not only with the esthetic quality of plants, but also with their environmental suitability, maintenance requirements, cost, availability, and durability.
Wide sidewalks, benches, and grassy areas such as those shown in the top of the above two photos provide convenient movement patterns as well as places to study or relax. The bottom photograph shows steps designed with a good riser-tread relationship to ensure safe and easy movement by users. Notice the simple design of the handrails.
Roads, walks, and parking areas on the school site should be carefully located so that they are convenient without being obtrusive. Sidewalks on the school grounds should be placed so that they provide the shortest practicable route from one point to another and they should be separated from automobile and bicycle traffic. Since children tend to walk in groups instead of in single file, the walks on a school site should be at least five or six feet wide.
Safe, sturdy, and handsome bicycle racks such as those shown in the top picture should be placed on your school grounds. Bicycle lanes like those in the bottom photo separate bicycle traffic from pedestrians and automobiles.
Automobile drives on the school grounds should be held to a minimum and the drives that are necessary should be carefully designed so that they do not present a hazard to children playing in the area. Drives to service areas, parking lots, and loading areas should be designed to connect in the simplest and most direct manner consistent with safety and good design qualities. Approaches to the school should be kept away from major streets. If you plan to construct bicycle lanes on the school grounds, keep them separate from both automobile traffic and pedestrians. Where a bicycle lane must cross a sidewalk or roadway, install signs directing cyclists to yield right-of-way.
Size of parking lots required for your new school will vary according to the school’s enrollment, its grade level, and the extent to which the general public will use the facilities. Parking areas for faculty, staff, and visitors should be located near the main entrance of the school but not directly in front of the building since this would detract from the school and its setting. Student parking at a high school can be located in a more remote place on the site.
Parking lots should have appropriate plantings to screen them, to muffle noise, and to soften the visual impact of a large paved space. Trees can be planted in islands in the parking lot to provide shade and to add further visual relief. If you plan to use school buses, special parking areas for them should be provided as well as special loading zones installed. It is preferable that all parking lots be paved and marked for self parking. Additional information on parking lots as well as on landscape planning in general may be found in “Planning for a Better Community Landscape, ” which may be obtained on the World Wide Web at or on the “VISTA: Knowledge When You Need It” CD-ROM, available only to faculty and staff of the Illinois Cooperative Extension Service and the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
The semi-circular bench near the entrance of this grade school is used by pupils to wait for the school bus and for general gathering and socializing.
A broad and spacious area around the entrance of the school in the top photograph has been paved to provide a place where pupils may gather. Large stones are used around tree trunks to allow air and water to reach tree roots and provide an attractive texture contrast. The bottom picture shows how a retaining wall may be used to provide level space for a patio that can be used for outdoor classrooms and for general gathering.
An area such as this becomes an extension of indoor classroom space because of the large windows in the building. Benches and plantings provide an attractive environment for study and relaxation.
Future maintenance problems must also be considered when you plan the development of your school’s new site. The landscape architect should consult with school administrators and maintenance people to make sure that any possible maintenance problems are solved in the planning stages. He or she will also try to select landscape design materials that are durable and attractive but need a minimum of maintenance to retain these qualities. Remember, however, that there is no such thing as a maintenance-free development. In future years you will have to plan to spend funds for maintenance. Otherwise the site will become run down and unattractive.