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Sarah E. Goode STEM Academy

Landscape Performance Benefits


  • Reduces stormwater runoff by 38.9% or 311,683 gallons for a 2-year, 24-hour storm event.
  • Captures and treats 100% of stormwater runoff from average annual rainfall, removing an estimated 80% of total suspended solids (TSS).
  • Reduces annual irrigation needs by 3.45 million gallons as compared to a landscape of fully irrigated, non-native plants.
  • Increased ecological quality by over 10 times that of the former industrial site based on the Floristic Quality Assessment, a measurement of native biodiversity of plants.
  • Diverted over 20,700 tons of materials from landfills by reusing 90% of concrete, asphalt, and aggregate excavated from the site as backfill and recycling other site preparation materials.
  • Reduces urban heat island effect by using a green roof and materials with a solar radiation index (SRI) of at least 29 on over 70% of all hardscape and roof surfaces.


  • Projected to yield nearly 3,500 pounds of food, which has an estimated value of $9,850, through community garden plots.

At a Glance

  • Designer

    Jacobs/Ryan Associates

  • Project Type


  • Former Land Use


  • Location

    7651 South Homan Avenue
    Chicago, Illinois 60652
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  • Climate Zone

    Humid continental

  • Size

    17.2 acres

  • Budget

    $2 million

  • Completion Date


Sarah E. Goode STEM Academy was designed as part of the $1 Billion Chicago Public Schools’ “Modern Schools Across Chicago” Initiative. Headed by the Public Building Commission of Chicago, a strong interdisciplinary collaborative design process and sustainable design ethos led to integrated, sustainable building and site design strategies. As a result, the high school is the first Chicago Public School to achieve a LEED Platinum rating. The 17.2-acre former brownfield features numerous athletic fields set within a landscape of educational, native gardens. Special features include a biology garden, community vegetable gardens, an outdoor classroom/picnic area, built bleachers and custom concrete sport seating, a council ring, rain gardens, a cistern, a geothermal field, and native plant education signs. The site is designed to also function as a neighborhood park and recreation center. The school has an indoor pool and gymnasium that are open to the community during non-school hours.


The Modern Schools Across Chicago program is a forward-thinking initiative to develop a series of prototype STEM schools to meet growing demands in education and professional training throughout the city. However, there are two primary challenges in developing a sustainable landscape for the prototype: the first is the large high school building footprint, which, due to security design, doesn’t allow indoor/outdoor circulation beyond the single building entry. This limits the immediate use of and access to gardens that are designed as outdoor classrooms and educational spaces. The second challenge is that as a high school, 43% of the site is used for recreational fields requiring turf surfaces, limiting the space for sustainable landscapes and elements.


In order to increase ecological functionality, the designers proposed green roofs over a majority of building surface, and although this doesn’t increase physical access, it increased the amount of visible gardens for the students and school community from indoors. At ground-level, the designers located gardens along window-walls and used the large surface area of the recreational fields for a geothermal field. The green roofs and geothermal field increase the overall sustainability of the high school by contributing to the energy efficiency of the building.

  • The site provides an educational landscape consisting of an 8,660-sf-biology garden, a 8,726-sf community garden area, a 7,130-sf reading garden, and a 5,954-sf outdoor classroom/picnic area containing native plant palettes.
  • Three rain gardens cover a total of 27,995 sf. Each is approximately 4-ft in depth with a specific soil mix, drainage gravel, underdrain piping, and native plants that include Echinacea (purple coneflower), Lobelia (blue lobelia), and Schizachyrium scoparium (little bluestem).
  • The rain gardens are integrated around baseball and softball fields, which are underlain by a geothermal field, and a 142,585-sf synthetic turf football/soccer field and running track.
  • A total of 54,875-sf of additional gardens throughout the entire school site contain 18 different plant mixes of 42 species including grasses, forbs, asters, and flowering perennials.
  • Different types of educational signage in the gardens communicate information on the water cycle, native plants, and prairie ecosystem to encourage learning about the site through observation and engagement.
  • A 32,000-sf extensive green roof covers over 40% of the building and is planted with pre-vegetated mats of 15 varieties of flowering sedum, including white, yellow and red colors. All plant material is contained within 3 inches of engineered growing medium modular trays.
  • On top of the green roof, gravel-nesting areas, birdhouses, a shallow water basin, and fallen trees for perches were installed to create habitat for birds. These features provide visual interest from the building’s interior in lieu of access onto the green roof.
  • A 48,529-sf reflective roof has a reflectance value of 0.84, which is 7 times higher than that of an asphalt roof.
  • All landscape spaces are designed to collect, convey, store and/or infiltrate stormwater on-site.
  • A 4,000-gallon cistern with a water gauge provides irrigation to community garden plots and overflows to the biology garden.
  • The 40 community garden plots, each sized 8 ft by 5 ft, include 10 universally accessible garden plots.
  • The outdoor classroom/picnic area provides seating for 74, including 4 universally accessible seats.
  • A sustainable landform strategy reuses tons of existing onsite material that would otherwise be construction debris to create seating berms for athletic fields in lieu of traditional aluminum stadium seating.
  • The permeable parking lot is composed of light-colored concrete pavers with a solar reflectance index (SRI) of 38. It accommodates 100 cars and provides storage for 35 bicycles.
  • A major cost savings to the project involved the reuse of existing materials – primarily concrete, bituminous asphalt, and aggregate – as site fill for the new construction. The landscape architect accommodated these materials through special landforms, such as bermed “bleacher” seating adjacent to recreational fields and as noise barriers at the northern edge of the site opposite an adjacent rail yard. The reuse strategy saved an estimated $500,000 in site and landscape construction costs in addition to providing a sustainability benefit by keeping over 20,000 tons of materials out of landfills and eliminating the need to import new materials for site fill.
  • As part of the Modern Schools Across Chicago program, the project design process was highly integrated from the beginning. The client and design firms were highly motivated by a shared ethos and objective to design a sustainable project in a comprehensive manner. The project was originally scoped to achieve LEED Silver, and ended up achieving LEED Platinum. This is attributed to the team finding integrated solutions for a stronger project across disciplines than otherwise would have been achieved in a more traditional design process. The landscape architect had worked with the architect and civil engineering firms in the past, and this likely contributed to the collaborative process. For STEM Academy there is a direct relationship between building and landscape performance as evident in the green roof, geothermal field, and landscapes and gardens programmed to support education.
  • One area of the landscape that has been underutilized is the community garden. In contrast to the integrated design process within the team, the design process for schools in Chicago does not typically include user coordination, often because the final end-user hasn’t yet been identified before the design process takes place. The design team collaborated on the project with only the Public Building Commission, which then handed the project over to the school after construction. Thus, the site was designed with an “if we build it, they will come” approach. It is possible that because there were no discussions or design charrettes to share the ideas of the garden with the intended end-users, the community garden remains underutilized.

Berm Seating Rail: HDI Railing System
Bike Rack: Forms + Surfaces, Trio Rack  
Trash Receptable: Landscape Forms, Select Receptacle
Cluster Seating: Forms + Surfaces, Vista
Dolomitic Limestone Benches: Vaiders Stone
Aqua Grantique Boulders: Krukowski Stone
New York Bluestone Chips: Town and Country Landscape Supply
Drinking Fountain: Haws
Green Roof System: Eterra
Green Roof Pavers: Stepstone, Inc.  
Permeable Pavers: Unilock
Reading Garden Pavers: Hanover Prest Pavers 
Segmental Retaining Wall Units: Belgard, BelAir Wall
Ornamental Metal Fence: Security Industries, Inc. 
Screen Trellis: McNichols EcoMesh
Educational Signs: Fossil Industries
Quick Couple Turf Boxes: Pentek Access Boxes
PVC Pressure Pipe: Cresline
Quick Couple Valves: Rainbird
Drainage Mat: TenCate Geosynthetics, Mirafi
PVC Sewer Pipe: Flying W Plastics, Inc. 

Project Team

Client: Public Building Commission of Chicago
Landscape Architect: Jacobs/Ryan Associates
Architect: STR Partners, LLC
Civil Engineer: Terra Engineering, LTD
Sustainable Design Consultant: HJKessler Associates, Inc.
General Contractor: F.H. Paschen
Irrigation Contractor: Halloran and Yauch   
Tree Protection Services: Autumn Tree Care Experts 
Landscape Contractor: Atrium 

Role of the Landscape Architect

The landscape architect provided full services for the project, from schematic design through construction documentation and administration, including preparation of submission materials for LEED certification.


Stormwater management, Water conservation, Water quality, Habitat quality, Temperature & urban heat island, Reused/recycled materials, Food production, Reused/recycled materials, Rainwater harvesting, Permeable paving, Native plants, High-albedo materials, Green roof, Food garden, Efficient irrigation, Biodiversity, 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.

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