Stormwater as a Vehicle for Change

At LandDesign, we strive to understand the connection between our built environment and nature, and how we can create healthier communities by marrying the two. We take the challenge to design healthier communities head-on, with the end user’s well-being in mind. The playgrounds at Simon Elementary School, located in Washington, DC, were once an uninspiring play space that was contributing to the poor water quality of the nearby Potomac River. Our designers saw an opportunity to transform the school’s playground and create a play space that would make a positive change for the region, and a healthier community for the students and teachers at Simon Elementary School.

From Pavement to Play Space

The playgrounds at Simon Elementary School were comprised of nearly two acres of pavement with only one small piece of play equipment on each. Located less than 500 feet from the banks of Oxon Run, a tributary to the Potomac River, the playgrounds were a textbook example of land contributing to rain runoff issues. LandDesign worked closely with the school principal, a group of teachers and parents, the District Department of Environment and Department of General Services to develop a pilot project to test integration of pending strict stormwater management regulations into school grounds. Capitalizing on stormwater management as a vehicle for change, our team created a landscape design for the playground that would infuse the play space with nature and create opportunities for children to explore and play in a natural landscape, while contributing to the rehabilitation of the Potomac watershed.

Closer to Nature

The new playground includes a blend of active and passive play areas, encouraging positive social interactions and physical development. To maximize the usability and impact of the playground, it was critical to keep the design flexible, which was achieved through the use of multipurpose play elements, open lawn areas and gathering spaces that can serve for classrooms and events as well as social hangouts. The design carves out a dynamic, absorbent landscape that improves water infiltration and forms pockets of differentiated play areas.

Large rain gardens surround the schoolyard, improving water management conditions while providing children direct contact to the process of treating rain runoff, fostering a natural appreciation for the environment. Native plants were carefully selected for their water tolerance, one of the many low impact development tools employed to support river improvements. The design for the playground redirects roof drainage to swales through the play space. An increase in pervious surface by 30% slows down runoff and reduces erosion.

Born from a watershed rehabilitation initiative, the Simon Elementary School playground was transformed into an inspiring, functional landscape that manages stormwater while forging a direct relationship between children and nature, planting the seed for environmental stewardship. In 2018, LandDesign was awarded the Potomac Chapter ASLA Social Impact Award for our work on the Simon Elementary School playground.