Chicago Public Schools


Enhanced learning and recreation environments designed with green infrastructure solutions.


Chicago, Illinois

Service Line

Project Highlights

  • STG captures more than 3.5 million gallons of water
  • 2018 Burnham Award for Excellence in Planning
  • 2017 Stormwater Solutions Top Project Award
  • Program information:

Space to Grow is an innovative urban renewal program aimed to transform Chicago’s outdated asphalt schoolyards into vibrant outdoor spaces that benefit students, communities, and the environment. Along with upgraded learning and fitness amenities, green infrastructure solutions to stormwater management help resolve neighborhood flooding.

Since its inception in 2014, the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) has transformed over 20 schools. CPS has retained ECT to provide comprehensive landscape architecture and civil engineering services for six elementary schools, including Virgil I. “Gus” Grissom School, Theophilus Schmid School, Eugene Field Elementary School, Gunsaulus Scholastic Academy, Morton Elementary School, and the Orozco Academy Elementary School.

The new outdoor spaces and playgrounds include combinations of pervious sport courts, pervious rubber and artificial turf surfaces, and permeable parking lot paving. The landscape renovations include bioretention approaches and raised planters for use by the community to grow edibles. The green approaches to stormwater runoff address recurring neighborhood flooding, combine sewer overflows, and reduce the water reclamation facility load – all while providing students with new opportunities for outdoor recreation and physical fitness.

The Space to Grow Program is the result of a collaboration between CPS, Chicago Department of Water Management, the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District, Openlands, and the Healthy Schools Campaign.

In a follow up study titled, “Community Based Green Infrastructure Solutions,” ECT worked with Openlands to research the impact of the changes by monitoring and assessing how one elementary school’s outdoor spaces performed in rain events of varying sizes.

The study found that Grissom Elementary has a projected two-year, 100 percent reduction in runoff volume. It is also expected to hold and use all stormwater that falls on the site for about 99 percent of storms. The garden is expected to reduce total suspended solids (TSS) in runoff by 97 percent on an average annual basis, resulting in an annual TSS load of 970 pounds per acre per year. In total, this is a reduction of virtually 100 percent of all pollutants.

ECT is contracted to design two new schools that will be constructed in 2020.