Small Site, Big Impact

Barrio Logan Child Development Center image: Alex Calegari
Barrio Logan Child Development Center
image: Alex Calegari

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.

Before. Site photo looking Northeast. The play yard had little play value and was uncomfortable for both the children and staff. image: Alex Calegari
Before. Site photo looking Northeast. The play yard had little play value and was uncomfortable for both the children and staff.
image: Alex Calegari

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.

After. View looking South. The tricycle track is the spine that runs through the yard. Vertical planters help to soften the walls, providing planting areas, and maximizing the ground level for play. image: Alex Calegari
After. View looking South. The tricycle track is the spine that runs through the yard. Vertical planters help to soften the walls, providing planting areas, and maximizing the ground level for play.
image: Alex Calegari

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.

After. View looking North. The periwinkle wall helps to soften the building and reduce sun reflection while creating a calming atmosphere for the children. image: Alex Calegari
After. View looking North. The periwinkle wall helps to soften the building and reduce sun reflection while creating a calming atmosphere for the children.
image: Alex Calegari
After. View Looking North at the shade structure. The new trellis structure lets in dappled sun as well as airflow, creating a much more comfortable outdoor classroom space than the previous shade tent. image: Ty Sterns
After. View Looking North at the shade structure. The new trellis structure lets in dappled sun as well as airflow, creating a much more comfortable outdoor classroom space than the previous shade tent.
image: Ty Sterns
After. Left: Elements of Risk. Eucalyptus stumps help to define the edges of the various play settings while providing a healthy level of risk for children to practice their balance. Right: Creative Play. Elements such as the water table and sand kitchen allow children to experiment, build, and “cook” with natural elements. image: Alex Calegari
After. Left: Elements of Risk. Eucalyptus stumps help to define the edges of the various play settings while providing a healthy level of risk for children to practice their balance. Right: Creative Play. Elements such as the water table and sand kitchen allow children to experiment, build, and “cook” with natural elements.
image: Alex Calegari

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.

After. View looking North from the habitat garden. image: Ty Sterns
After. View looking North from the habitat garden.
image: Ty Sterns

Project Team

Project Management, Designer, and Construction Observation: Rooted In Place Landscape Architecture and Consulting

Client: Child Development Associates

Funding: San Diego County First 5 Commission Quality Preschool Initiative

Additional support included:
Construction Drawings: Carson Douglas Landscape Architects
Contractor: Urban Corps of San Diego

by Ilisa Goldman, PLA, MLA, ASLA, Principal and Founder, Rooted In Place Landscape Architecture and Consulting

3 thoughts on “Small Site, Big Impact

  1. John LaRue May 26, 2016 / 2:22 pm

    This really really nice! Kudos!!!

  2. Tracey Lydon May 29, 2016 / 10:04 am

    I love this! I am working on a design for a similar project in Oakland. It is great to see the imact that can be made when we include the whole play environment in our thought process. There is so much that can be gained when we look to engage the imagination and provide these creative spaces for play.

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