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Site Design and Landscape

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Welcoming Entry

Each campus at CCUSD is unique, so opportunities to create a “signature” element that speaks to what makes the school special as part of the welcoming and inviting school entry should be taken by engaging community stakeholders in workshops to develop concepts in the programming phase of projects. The element that creates the signature can be graphic, architectural or a landscape design element such as a garden or fountain. It can also be an art element that is freestanding such as a sculpture or an outdoor display case for student projects.


The campuses have an emphasis on student made murals which have gone a long way in improving the aesthetics of the campuses. More murals or places to display art both permanently and temporarily are wanted.

A new component for Administration has been espoused in these Ed Specs as a response to the need for space to better support CCUSD’s concept of school as a center for the community: the Welcome Center and Community Hub.  Landscape design that includes a covered entry with seating creates a space for the community and enhances the security of the school. The space could be larger with outdoor tables that provide a place for parents to linger and connect to each other.

 Concepts and Ideas 

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Weather Protection

A common pattern of CCUSD’s campuses is a lack of protection from the sun and rain when student move from their classrooms to shared resource space. This presents a challenge especially for Pre-K, TK and Kinder students who need more time to get from one place to another. When planning spaces for Early Childhood students, their learning studios should be in proximity to the shared resource spaces.  Another common issue is the lack of protection from sun and rain for the backpacks hanging outside the classrooms. Lunches are stored in backpacks and should not be exposed to the sun. Best practices are to provide shade canopies for circulation and overhangs to protect the windows and backpacks from direct sun.

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Outdoor Learning and Dining


Common patterns occurring in the CCUSD campuses are: wasted landscape space that could be transformed into useable learning and play space, a lack of shade for fundamental needs such as eating lunch or preschoolers having snacks outdoors; and a lack of outdoor space to use for after school programs that are visually connected to the indoor spaces used.  The detailed site committee reports that DLR Group made at the time of the Master Plans and Ed Specs show specific ways to make the most of wasted outdoor space by converting them into Outdoor Learning spaces. 

In some cases, such as at Linwood Howe Elementary School, there is a courtyard that is only used when the teacher takes the entire class outside. If windows with views to this space were to be added, this space would be used for learning. If the space were to be fitted out as per the Ed Specs, almost any type of learning activity that takes place indoors could take place outdoors.  The outdoor learning spaces will go a long way to support project-based learning and disciplines such as art and science.

 Concepts and Ideas 

El Marino Elementary School has the issue of being located too close to a freeway, so outdoor spaces need trees that help filter the air and acoustically buffer and the master plan for this campus captures outdoor space to create Indoor Commons.  The landscape architect on the project shall ensure the selection of trees are both native and with an excellent capacity for cleaning the air and absorbing CO2. 

Outdoor Learning spaces can also be used for dining because the Ed Specs call for fitting them out with shade, hardscape, outdoor furniture, water source, power source, and WiFi for learning activities. In the future, when renovations can create small learning communities of no more than 150 students, these spaces will allow students to eat with their cohort and more easily connect with each other. Opportunities for improving Outdoor Dining next to future Cafés exist to create more collegiate style outdoor spaces for middle school and the high schools as well as adding shaded space and round tables with umbrellas (and no metal grating that food gets caught in)to promote social emotional learning while eating, starting in early childhood. Having more space for outdoor dining will also allow campuses fewer lunch shifts giving students more time to eat while alleviating the lack of indoor dining space. 

Outdoor Spaces
Early Childhood and Special Ed Students 

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 Concepts and Ideas 

For Pre-K, TK and Kinder the adjacent outdoor learning and play spaces must be enclosed to prevent students from wandering out of sight.  Students with special needs must have their outdoor spaces somewhat enclosed to feel more comfortable and not get distracted by adjacent activities and high stimulation. The outdoor learning space for this population should be calming and provide an architectural canvas for the students and teachers to decorate to fit their needs.  This type of enclosure can be done with low walls.  

Currently, many campuses do not have the two necessary dedicated zones to meet Title 22 for Pre-K and Kindergarten and have shared playgrounds which they use alternately by taking turns. The Master Plans call for creating these two dedicated zones.

Outdoor Learning space are an integral part of the Office of Child Development’s Reggio Emilia inspired educational philosophy.  These outdoor areas should be designed to promote engagement, exploration, and discovery. Detailed information on quality outdoor classrooms pre-K, TK, and kindergarten can be found at the Outdoor Classroom Project, with Eric Nelson, one the founders, summarizing the following design criteria.

  • Play yards should always be adjacent to the classrooms of the children they are serving, with sightlines between the two to facilitate supervision.

  • Play yards should always be large enough to contain the full variety of activities children require for healthy development of the whole child.  For Pre-K, TK, and K programs, the play yard should be sized at 80-90 sf/child, rather than the code minimum of 75 sf/child.

  • Open space should be large enough for children to run freely, with activity areas placed around the perimeter.

  • Yard layouts need to separate those different types of children’s activities that might conflict with one another where they overlap in order to avoid safety risks and supervision challenges.

  • A wide variety of materials/equipment is needed, with emphasis on items the children can manipulate.

  • There must be adequate outdoor storage to support the full variety of activities children require for healthy development outdoors.

  • Play yards should provide challenge sufficient to support development of the whole child; challenge is defined as ‘reasonable risk’.

  • Nature and a natural environment should be the dominant environment outdoors.

  • The play yards should be designed to support the free and engaged participation of active children.

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Outdoor Gathering and Fitness

Many campuses lack shade and power for outdoor gathering space for events such as the morning meeting ritual which includes parents at Linwood Howe Elementary School, school-wide or grade level presentations, events such as the popular “International Night” at La Ballona Elementary School, Performing Arts events and learning activities; and programs such as “Buddy Time”.  Ideally, the outdoor gathering space should be located next to the Community Hub and Welcome Center to make it more easily accessible to the community. 

Campuses such as Culver City Middle School have undersized play fields and limited athletic fields. The Culver City High School currently lacks basketball courts since the new science building was built over them. Handball courts are very popular with elementary school students, but they must be placed in a way that does not compromise sight lines for supervision. The Master Plans show solutions for improving the outdoor spaces for fitness, PE and athletics.

Weaving par courses with exercise stations is a great way to encourage activity on tight sites. The Outdoor Learning spaces can also be used for small groups to do activities such as dancing or yoga.


 Concepts and Ideas 

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Green Schoolyard Program

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On a per campus basis, it is recommended to engage with stakeholders to advocate for and find champions for a community garden based Green Schoolyard Program. This would support connections to the community and promote the viability of garden-based education, hands-on science-based instruction yielding tangible results to promote the well-being of teachers and students in nurturing growth. 

 Concepts and Ideas 

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Campus as a Teaching Tool

Sustainable Schools utilizing the Collaborative for High Performance Schools self-verified criteria are a simple and cost-effective way to ensure that High Performance considerations beyond CalGreen and code minimums maximize a healthy and high achieving academic environment.

Landscapes and outdoor rainwater and storm-water strategies that incorporate conservation and environmentally-responsible principles to demonstrate environmental stewardship.  Installations and signage within the campus environment both connect students to the natural and built environment, empowering them with an understanding of their role in sustainability. 

 Concepts and Ideas 

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