often, the planning of playgrounds and athletic fields are given
serious attention only after the ĺ─˙more important designĺ─¨ of the school
is complete. After all, they are only PE
approach is a total mistake and reflects a lack of understanding of the
complex and important relationship these areas have to the total
educational program, safety/security of students, and opportunities for
school campus use by the community.
Of the numerous important issues in planning
playgrounds and athletics, at least remember the big three:
Importantly, these themes apply to all levels of
K-12 facility design.
A recently completed California
high school placed the stadium on a beautiful area of the site, which
included a natural slope that could be economically incorporated into
the bleacher seating. At the master
planning level, this solution seemed like a ĺ─˙slam dunkĺ─¨ solution.
Unfortunately, the design failure was in the details.
Problems really got bad after the visiting team
lost a big game. What they could not
achieve on the field, the patrons ĺ─˙took outĺ─¨ on the building. In
addition, the design was so hidden in back that the community could not
use the track or other features without feeling remote, unsafe and
problems could have been avoided by more detailed pre-planning of
evening access from the parking lots, creating a visitor parking and
access route away from the building to distribute and diversify patron
traffic, and providing a side street access to the site for the
avoid these problems, a complete list of performance goals should have
been clearly specified in the educational specifications and discussed
with the architects during the pre-design planning process.
school planning offers a good example of the importance of athletic and
PE field access from the buildingĺ─Â and vise versa. (Remember, kids
bring dirt back with them.)
planners prefer to provide direct access from the rear of the locker
room directly outside to the fields, track, tennis, etc.
This is thought to be more efficient. I am not sure.
Often times this approach causes many problems:
There are too
many doors to secure ĺ─ý locker room entry doors from the hallway plus
those leading from the locker to the outside.
Extra doors are a weekend security problem for
entry, broken hardware/lights, and graffiti.
These quick exit departure doors are without
windows and become a safety hazard for in/out traffic.
students, all at once, get bottle necked as they re-enter carrying
equipment, dirty feet, and eagerness to not be late for their next
consider planning access from the main building via an adjacent hallway
leading from the locker room to the fields. The
graphic below reveals several benefits.
Again, the educational specifications should
provide practical guidance on summarizing performance issues.
we think the ĺ─˙little kidsĺ─¨ just go outside and playĺ─Âblowing off steam
so they can return to class for ĺ─˙real educationĺ─¨. Thus,
playground planning may be considered flexible ĺ─˙spaceĺ─¨ outside the
building. This cannot be further from the
age differences, maternity ranges, and physical size of the youngster
pose numerous important concerns at all levels of planning ĺ─ý Marco
level big picture issues and micro level details at the individual
level. The graphic below simplifies a few
In elementary playground planning, be sure to
consider the following:
through younger child areas/equipment to access older student fields. This
obvious conflict is often missed in an attempt to keep the younger
students closer to the building for easy access and security.
Sequence ĺ─˙transitionalĺ─¨ areas between older and
younger student fields and equipment. Students
vary greatly in PE/sports maturity, dexterity, and physical size. Thus,
some students may play more comfortably on smaller swings or climbing
equipment than others, but still want to be ĺ─˙part of the groupĺ─¨. Proper
sequencing of equipment for access, teacher visibility, and scale can
provide unified and supervised creative play with reduced conflicts and
Place pre-school and kindergarten much closer to
the actual classroom, if not right outside. Pay
attention to micro level details to provide more direct observation,
sensitive ĺ─˙confinementĺ─¨, and even properly oriented roof cover to
protect from the heavy sun. Finally, keep
the youngest children a safe distance from parking areas, drop offs,
and inappropriate pedestrian traffic. This
avoids unauthorized parent/adult access.
plan elementary play areas for other creative uses such as imaginative
role-playing, theater performances, science activities, and even art. Overlapping
functionality, when done with practical understanding of program, can
be very useful, economical, and educationally productive.
just touching a few key points, it becomes obvious that playgrounds and
fields are an active ingredient to the educational program and MUST be
planned comprehensively as part of a total educational program to site
design issues should be identified jointly in a properly facilitated
pre-design process of educational specification development.
Educational specifications create a learning process for the educator,
establish performance standards for use, and provide a simple checklist
to be used during the design phases to be inclusive of important
educational program requirements.
Hill, Ph.D. is a national consultant providing educational
specifications, district master plans, and Internet design review of
new or remodeled buildings for architects and school districts across North America.
unique credentials and experience in education, design, and finance
provide a broad practical perspective of issues facing education and
design. Frank is a regular contributor on
facility design topics and can be reached at www.franklinhill.com.
Send Frank any questions that can be used for
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