The Barrio Logan Child Development Center
When my client, Child Development Associates, first approached me about designing an Outdoor Learning Environment (OLE) for the Barrio Logan Child Development Center, he warned me it would be one of my most challenging projects. I saw these challenges as opportunities! Together we had an opportunity to maximize space, to transform lives, and to make a statement that all children could have access to a quality OLE.
The Barrio Logan Child Development Center (CDC) is located in the urban neighborhood of Barrio Logan just south of downtown San Diego. This publicly funded program serves approximately 85 children (3-5 years of age), with the majority from low-income families in the community. The small 1,513 sf play yard (17’ wide x 89’ long), with little shade and no vegetation, sits directly adjacent to the I-5 Freeway, the heavy traffic generating a constant background noise for the students and staff at the Center. Most of the children spend 40-50 hours a week at the Center with little access to nature and open space in their community.
In an effort to minimize the exposure and stress, the project aims to provide a healthy outdoor space for children to play, learn, and connect with the natural world. Working with site staff, high priority was placed on developing an age appropriate, stimulating, nature-based play and learning yard. A detailed, finely tuned site plan was essential to meet the needs of the staff and students. Therefore, the design program included an interactive nature-based setting, a garden to promote healthy eating, and more usable space to encourage movement and gross motor activities such as balancing and jumping.
To meet program goals and comply with state licensing requirements, every inch of this space (both horizontal and vertical) had to be considered to transform this barren asphalt yard into a dynamic, functioning OLE. The tricycle track was the most challenging component to integrate; thus it became the backbone of the entire design. Various play settings now line the rubber track, including: a music wall, edible garden, vertical planters, sand and water play, a small native garden, an “electric” charging station, a mail station, and an art/reading area. The circulation along with the various elements, work together to keep the students engaged and active.
As with many schoolyard projects, funding was a concern for the client. Yet with a developed site plan and schematic renderings prepared by Rooted In Place, the client was able to secure a funding source. In May 2014, the San Diego County First 5 Commission Quality Preschool Initiative donated $90,181.00 for the construction of the OLE. Construction started in June 2014 and was completed in September 2014.
Although there has been an increased understanding of the importance of open space in our communities over the past two decades, the quality of those spaces (from early childhood programs through high school) are often overlooked when it comes to the design/construction process. As we now know, healthy children’s environments are much more than catalogue play structures and safety standards. Thanks to the foresight of the Child Development Associates and the San Diego County First 5 Commission Quality Preschool Initiative, this project now serves a flagship for how healthy outdoor learning environments can be integrated into even the smallest of Child Development Centers.
Project Management, Designer, and Construction Observation: Rooted In Place Landscape Architecture and Consulting
Client: Child Development Associates
by Ilisa Goldman, PLA, MLA, ASLA, Principal and Founder, Rooted In Place Landscape Architecture and Consulting