Space to Grow – $1.5 million Green Infrastructure Transforms Chicago Schoolyard

Renovations to a Chicago elementary school campus totaling $1.5 million will allow the space to retain more than 492,103 L (130,000 gal) of stormwater. The schoolyard’s transformation will promote physical activity, accommodate STEM-focused experiential learning, reduce runoff pollution, and demonstrate the benefits of green infrastructure construction as well as reduce flood risks.

Space to Grow transforms Chicago schoolyards into vibrant spaces to play, learn and be outside. As a funding and engineering partner of the program, the MWRD was excited to help document the schoolyard transformation at Wadsworth Elementary with a time-lapse camera. The schoolyard opened in November and our video is complete! This final version shows more than three months of construction work in less than three minutes! Learn more about Space to Grow at

The improvements to James Wadsworth Elementary School, nestled within the Woodlawn neighborhood of Chicago, enable more than 50% of the schoolyard’s previously impervious grounds able to absorb stormwater effectively. Underground, an aggregate-filled storage area will release captured stormwater gradually into the city’s combined sewer system.

Unveiled on Nov. 29, 2016, Wadsworth’s 3530-m2– (38,000-ft2-) outdoor play area and 223-m2– (2400-ft2-) playground was replaced with an artificially turfed athletic field, a running track, a basketball court, a playground with a rubberized surface, and vegetable gardens donated by The Kitchen Community (Boulder, Colo.). A newly installed cistern and rain garden will help to curb runoff from the school’s roof and new running track, respectively. In addition, landscapers planted 33 trees, 42 shrubs, and 1788 perennial flowers on the premises.


Sustainable schools

Wadsworth is the latest beneficiary of investments from “Space to Grow”, an award-winning joint effort between the Healthy Schools Campaign (Chicago), Openlands (Chicago), Chicago Public Schools, the Chicago Department of Water Management, and the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago (MWRD). The stormwater-management-centered program has invested $1.5 million each in nine Chicago schools since 2014, bringing total investments under the program to about $13.5 million.

“Wadsworth is one shining example of the positive impact Space to Grow has on the overall education and quality of life for a community,” said MWRD Commissioner Kari Steele in a release. “By lessening the load on our sewer system, we are reducing flooding and also improving area water quality. We are happy to partner on this program and make a difference in educating students and the community about the value of water.”

Last year, Space to Grow won the National Association of Flood and Stormwater Management Agencies’ first place Green Infrastructure award. The group also earned the 2016 Best of Green Schools Award for Collaboration by the Center for Green Schools (Washington, D.C.); the Sustainability award from the Illinois Association for Floodplain and Stormwater Management (St. Charles); and a New Champions award from the National Physical Activity Plan Alliance (Columbia, S.C.).

School Name Address  City 
Grisson Elementary School 12810 S. Escanada Chicago
Leland Elementary 512 S. Lavergne Ave Chicago
Donald L. Morrill Math & Science Specialty School 6011 S. Rockwell Chicago
Schmid Elementary School 9755 S. Greenwood Chicago
Willa Cather Elementary 2908 W. Washington Chicago
Orozco Elementary 1940 W. 18th St Chicago
James Wadsworth Elementary School 6650 S. Ellis Chicago
Gunsaulus Elementary Scholastic Academy 4420 S. Sacramento Chicago
Daniel J. Corkery Elementary School 2510 S. Kildare Chicago
Fernwood Elementary 10041 S. Union Ave Chicago
Cook Elementary 8150 S. Bishop Chicago
Nathan Davis Elementary School 3014 W. 39th Pl Chicago
Morton School of Excellence 431 N. Troy St. Chicago
Eugene Field Elementary 7019 N. Ashland Ave. Chicago