Return to Case Study Briefs

Buffalo Public School #305 McKinley High School

Landscape Performance Benefits


  • Maintains the overall peak flow rates across the site for up to a 100-year storm event despite a 14% increase in impervious area due to the school building expansion.
  • Reduces annual runoff by approximately 80,400 gallons through the use of green infrastructure. While runoff increased overall following the expansion, it is 32% less than it would have been without the green infrastructure practices.
  • Estimated to reduce nutrient loads exiting the site by 0.5 pounds of phosphorous and 2.4 pounds of nitrogen annually through green infrastructure practices.
  • Saves approximately 9,600 gallons of potable water per year by capturing and reusing rainwater for courtyard irrigation. This meets 98% of the demand and saves up to $290 annually.


  • Provides hands-on educational opportunities for approximately 100 students who annually participate in the school’s horticulture certificate program.
  • Contributed to an increase in student enrollment to the McKinley H.S. horticulture certificate program.


  • Provides the training ground for 20 students who participate in two summer employment programs, earning $400-$1,275 each over 6 weeks.

At a Glance

  • Designer

    Joy Kuebler Landscape Architect

  • Project Type


  • Former Land Use


  • Location

    1500 Elmwood Avenue
    Buffalo, New York 14207
    Map it

  • Climate Zone

    Humid continental

  • Size

    2.25 acres

  • Budget

    $1.5 million site budget, $30 million total

  • Completion Date

    2011 - Phase 1, 2012 - Phase 2

The McKinley High School reconstruction was part of the $1.4 billion Buffalo Public Schools Reconstruction Program aimed at modernizing the city school system. As a vocational high school serving 1,100 students, McKinley offers trade certificates in nine shop areas, including horticulture and aquatic ecology. The school reconstruction included a 13,000-sf building addition as part of a 40,000-sf building renovation, triggering New York State requirements for stormwater management. Green infrastructure practices, including a green roof, rain gardens, porous pavement and a water harvesting system were used to meet these regulatory requirements while preserving the school’s sports field and providing a learning landscape for the horticulture program. The design allows for the heavy foot traffic of students while providing a green, educational garden space.


The school is located in a dense residential neighborhood with little or no land available for expansion. Due to New York State Department of Enivronmental Conservation’s stormwater regulations, the school building expansion had to be accompanied by stormwater quality (not quantity) mitigation measures, and the only sizable open space available within the existing site boundary was a single sports field. Early on in the design process, the Buffalo School District decided that the sports field would be preserved rather than being converted to a stormwater basin. An additional challenge was that since McKinley is the only vocational school for the district, it had to remain open during the renovations.


Because the sports field space was unavailable for a detention pond or wetland, designers considered installing an underground sand filter under a parking lot. However, in the end, the best alternative was to install a number of small green infrastructure practices throughout the site because they could both treat stormwater and be used in the school’s horticulture curriculum. In order to keep the school open throughout the renovations, the project was phased with the students occupying areas where work was complete or yet to occur and then moving on to other areas.

  • McKinley High School is located on a 13.5-acre site, which includes approximately one acre of athletic field, 8,800 sf of garden and a 4,400-sf interior landscaped courtyard.
  • The entrance area incorporates 400 sf of permeable pavers, which accommodate 1,100 students entering the building each day while helping to meet state requirements for stormwater volume reduction.
  • A 1,700-sf rain garden area collects runoff from the adjacent sidewalks and overhead entrance canopy at the school’s main entrance.
  • The plantings were chosen to support the horticulture curriculum and include a selection of trees, shrubs, ornamental grasses, and perennials. All of the plants selected for the rain gardens and more than half (55%) of the ornamental plantings for the project are native to the Eastern United States.
  • 20 trees in 12 different species were planted to begin a small ‘arboretum’ where students can practice plant identification and pruning.
  • The interior courtyard space designed with 1,680 sf of planting bed was minimally planted to allow the remainder to be designed, planted, and maintained by students. The ongoing care of the courtyard provides real life design opportunities, expands hands-on plant care experience, and fosters a sense of community stewardship.
  • 295 sf of the interior courtyard is paved with permeable pavers.
  • A 3,000-gallon underground cistern is located below the courtyard and collects runoff from the permeable pavers and green roof. The stored water is re-circulated in a fountain and can be accessed through a hand pump to fill watering cans for hand watering throughout the courtyard.
  • A 1,553-sf extensive green roof features a locally produced tray system made from 100% recycled HDPE plastic with sedum plants and locally produced roof deck pedestal pavers made from recycled plastic.
  • Scupper overflow drains direct any runoff from the green roof to the underground cistern in the adjacent interior courtyard.
  • The school prohibits the use of fertilizers, pesticides or herbicides in all of its landscape.
  • Site furnishings feature 25% recycled metal content and 100% FSC®-certified sustainable forest wood in benches and 80% recycled metal content in trash receptacles.
  • A sand filter captures and treats runoff from 10,900-sf of existing parking at the rear of the site where rain gardens would have been difficult to maintain. Stormwater runoff in this area had not previously been treated.
  • The design team originally intended to treat stormwater in a large sub-surface sand filter beneath a parking lot, which would have cost approximately $106,000. The green infrastructure practices installed to treat the same volume of stormwater cost $118,731. For roughly the same cost, the green infrastructure practices provide a visually appealing landscape that contributes to the school’s educational programs.
  • Because student volunteers help to maintain the planting beds, maintenance costs are similar to what they would be for an equivalent area of lawn, even though the unit cost for planting beds is higher. Maintaining the planting beds is estimated to cost approximately $577 per year, and student participation reduces this by $93. The same area of lawn would cost approximately $514 per year to maintain.
  • The rain gardens have proven to be more resilient than expected as evidenced during Superstorm Sandy. Even the mulch in the beds stayed in place, while rain gardens installed by the City of Buffalo in a nearby area were virtually destroyed as their drainage systems were overwhelmed. The site preparation was extensive at McKinley, which was perhaps not the case with the nearby rain gardens. They have since been overhauled by the municipality.
  • Using high-quality furnishings in the landscape have generally been perceived by the school district as a poor investment since vandalism is expected. To date, no incidents of vandalism have occurred at the McKinley site but there are signs of skateboarding on furnishings without damage at this point. One note from staff is that while the fasteners are high-quality stainless steel, a different head shape should have been used. The students are removing the bolts with a phillips head shape. This is deemed by staff to be a matter of boredom by students waiting for buses rather than outright vandalism.
  • Pervious pavers were used in lieu of lawn in high traffic areas near doors and are performing as designed. A lawn area near a door that was described as an emergency exit during design but now functions as a normal exit door is proving hard to maintain, so more pervious pavers are being considered.
  • The 3,000-gallon cistern in the courtyard was intended to serve both the courtyard and the greenhouse with irrigation water. This water is being used in the courtyard and seems sufficient for the irrigation needs of that area, though it is occasionally supplemented with potable water. There is a valve in the basement that switches the flow to the greenhouse, but since the water is not always sufficient for the greenhouse needs, the greenhouse manager doesn’t consider it to be worth the effort to utilize the cistern water at all.

Hardscape: Recycled Rubber Paver Tiles
Green Roof System: Vegetal i.D. Inc.
Furniture: Landscape Forms

Project Team

Client/Owner: Buffalo Public School District
Landscape Architect: Joy Kuebler Landscape Architect, PC
Architect and Structural Engineer: Cannon Design
Civil Engineer: Watts Architecture & Engineering
Construction Manager: LPCiminelli 

Role of the Landscape Architect

Joy Kuebler Landscape Architect, PC provided leadership for the project from conceptual design through construction management. Working with the project’s architect and the school district, the firm advocated green infrastructure solutions that had not been previously installed at Buffalo Public Schools.


Stormwater management, Water conservation, Water quality, Educational value, Other social, Job creation, Reused/recycled materials, Rainwater harvesting, Permeable paving, Bioretention, Native plants, Green roof, Learning landscapes

The LPS Case Study Briefs are produced by the Landscape Architecture Foundation (LAF), working in conjunction with designers and/or academic research teams to assess performance and document each project. LAF has no involvement in the design, construction, operation, or maintenance of the projects. See the Project Team tab for details. If you have questions or comments on the case study itself, contact us at email hidden; JavaScript is required.

Help build the LPS: Find out how to submit a case study and other ways to contribute.