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Make a (Conceptual) Plan

As you can see from our case studies, there is tremendous value in creating a conceptual plan to guide any schoolyard project.
A master plan like the one you see here enables you to:
  • envision possibilities, establish priorities, and build consensus—right from the start.
  • identify the best locations for play areas, plantings, outdoor learning, and more.
  • break the project into smaller steps or phases
  • communicate your vision so you can begin to orchestrate funding and support
  • help you find creative ways to integrate a myriad of contributions (such as plants, play equipment, or labor) that are likely to come from many different sources. 


We work with school groups to implement a multifaceted approach:

1. Do your homework

A conceptual plan begins with a good understanding of the physical environment of your schoolyard. It will help you early in the design process to:

  • Ask students, teachers, and nearby residents how they use the schoolyard now and what they like and dislike about it. 
  • Assess the spaces and existing equipment and furnishings within the schoolyard, to determine which are obsolete, damaged, or well-loved by students.
  • Identify good locations for new elements such as green stormwater infrastructure. 
2. Come back to the big picture

Brainstorming with stakeholders ensures that your schoolyard responds to your community and has a clear, compelling vision. Some of the big-picture questions to ask during the conceptual design process are: 

  • What is special about the school building, site, and surrounding neighborhood? 
  • How can the schoolyard support education, the environment, and community health and wellness? 
  • What unmet or emerging local needs could the schoolyard address? 
  • How can we sum up our vision for our school or schoolyard with a few, well-chosen words? 
3. Learn about the entire design process

It will help you to know the traditional design phases for typical capital building projects. Down the road, your team will need to commission additional design services from a planning, architecture, landscape architecture, and/or engineering firm in order to realize any major improvements. By that time, your network and fundraising efforts are likely to be well in place.

  • Predevelopment*
    Tests the feasibility of a project by determining goals, space needs, the appropriate site, and preliminary costs.
  • Schematic design*
    Develops conceptual drawings to illustrate the vision for the project. 
  • Design development
    Refines the design and drawings, and develops preliminary specifications for building materials and methods.
  • Construction documents
    Finalizes drawings and specifications to guide contractors in bidding, purchasing, scheduling, and construction.
  • Construction administration
    Ensures quality construction and the completion of the project on time and on budget.


*The Collaborative’s Design Grants include Predevelopment and a portion of Schematic Design, the first 10–15% of the overall design process.



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