RL Stevenson School

RL Stevenson School – 2051 34th Ave, San Francisco


Located in the Sunset district of San Francisco, R.L. Stevenson School educates children from K to 5th grade. In 2015, the school won monies from the SFPUC Urban Watershed Stewardship Grant, and was selected to be the first pilot site in the District to be a “Stormwater Schoolyard” demonstration project. The main outdoor space at R. L. Stevenson is split into two separate yards: South, the smaller one for younger children, and North, the larger one for the older students in the school. Both yards were fully covered with asphalt paving, sporting a few dilapidated benches along the building walls. In the north yard, three stunted trees in raised planters did not provide enough shade on hot days. While the spaces accommodated various PE activities, the students and teachers gained no further value from being outside. Flooding in the courtyards and between buildings under a covered walkway, locally referred to as the Great Stevenson Lake, was a regular winter fare.

The District awarded the improvement project to Miller Company Landscape Architects to engage in a collaborative effort between the SFUSD, SFPUC and the design team to create an exemplary schoolyard space and address the following goals:

•   Revitalize the schoolyard to be safe, practical, usable, fun, stimulating, varied and dynamic;

•   Reduce impermeable surface and increase storm water performance;

•   Provide opportunities for formal and informal outdoor learning;

•   Engage and educate all parts of the school community - teachers, students, administrators, parents and family, as well as neighbors.

With a long history of working with the SFUSD, Miller Company helped lead a year-long participatory design process before developing construction drawings. The final plan composes of rain gardens with native planting and a sunken amphitheater with permeable pavers in the south yard, and dry creek play areas with native planting, boulders and redwood log benches in both south and north yards. In place of the asphalt paving, together these now pervious areas infiltrate storm water from approximately one acre of roof and paving surfaces, and divert 475 gallons a year from the city sewer system.

The design for the storm water system is intentionally conspicuous and interactive. During rainy seasons, students will be able to see water routed from roofs into to pervious areas, and directly observe its infiltration into the ground. The flow of the water is visually enhanced by “water drops” painted on the paving, and the function of the infiltration is further addressed in interpretative signs at each area.

Beyond storm water diversion, the new spaces bring nature closer to children growing up in highly urbanized neighborhoods, and help instill a sense of stewardship for the environment and water conservation awareness in 500 students and their families. Fifteen new trees will help provide shade and wildlife habitat, and the understory native planting is intended to strengthen the school’s outdoor education program. New picnic tables add a valuable socializing and study opportunities out in the open.

Construction of the pilot project finished in the fall of 2018, with a ribbon cutting ceremony celebrated by students, teacher, administrators and wide range of City Officials.