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The Willow School

Landscape Performance Benefits


  • Reduces potable water consumption by 375,000 gallons per year by using harvested rainwater to flush school toilets. This saves $2,230 annually.
  • Treats and infiltrates 380,000 gallons of wastewater annually with a system that includes constructed wetlands and a sand filter.


  • Engages all 250 students in gardening throughout the year. An estimated 1% of the school’s food comes from the school vegetable gardens and adjacent fruit trees.
  • Recycles an average of 280 lbs of organic waste each month as compost for the vegetable gardens. Nearly all students surveyed always compost organic waste at school.
  • Engages all 250 students in an educational curriculum that includes landscape processes and ethics. When a sample of students were asked to list environmentally-friendly features of green buildings, 82% listed landscape features such as rainwater harvesting, composting, vegetable gardens, or wetlands. When asked about stormwater, 86% of students knew that asphalt and concrete were not the best ground surfaces for managing stormwater around a building. 

At a Glance

  • Designer

    Back to Nature

  • Project Type


  • Former Land Use


  • Location

    1150 Pottersville Road
    Gladstone, New Jersey 07934
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  • Climate Zone

    Humid continental

  • Size

    34 acres

  • Budget

    $5 million

  • Completion Date


Located on 34 acres in rural New Jersey, the Willow School is a preschool through eighth grade school with an average student body of 250. Along with encouraging students to succeed academically, the school seeks to train students in building ethical relationships with people and nature. Willow School students learn about the importance of living in harmony with ecological systems through the protection and conservation of natural resources. Campus improvements completed in 2003 reflect these values. Sustainable forest management practices are restoring the native habitat and depleted soils. The stormwater and wastewater treatment systems not only improve the local environment but also serve as learning laboratories for students who actively study the positive impacts of these sustainable landscape features.


The design challenge was to create an educational facility where the landscape functions as an environmental classroom in multiple dimensions. With very little understory and significantly depleted topsoil, the forest surrounding the original school building was in decline. The poor site conditions were used as an opportunity to teach students, school community and county regulators that the redevelopment was an opportunity to do more than simply mitigate environmental impact; it was a chance to restore and improve the natural systems on the site. To do this, the school would have to use sustainable building techniques, manage stormwater and wastewater onsite, and develop a forest management plan.


Sustainable forest management practices helped to restore native plant species by selectively harvesting trees and replanting with successional vegetation and native understory plants. Minimizing impervious surface, harvesting rainwater, and using green infrastructure to manage stormwater and wastewater onsite mitigates impacts, reduces potable water consumption, and increases groundwater recharge. The LEED Platinum building and regenerative landscape give students the opportunity to learn about and educate others on how their school has positively impacted local environmental conditions.

  • Using sustainable forest management practices, select trees were harvested and successional vegetation and native understory species were planted in order to restore native plant communities and regenerate the depleted topsoil.
  • Rainwater falling on the lower school’s roof is harvested, stored in a 50,000-gallon cistern located under the parking lot, and used to flush the school’s toilets.
  • Runoff from paved surfaces is directed into vegetated bioswales through limited curb use. From there, stormwater is further channeled to a naturalized detention pond.
  • Wastewater is treated onsite through a system that incorporates green infrastructure. A fiberglass settling tank settles the solids and is pumped like a traditional septic tank. From there water flows into a constructed wetlands where plants remove suspended solids, phosphorous and nitrogen. Water is then pumped to a recirculating sand filter and finally dispersed into the ground through a pressure dosed infiltration/leaching field.
  • Perennial plantings around school entrances and walkways use native and drought resistant species that require no fertilizers, pesticides, or irrigation.
  • Fruit trees and a student-maintained vegetable garden are used to educate and engage students through planting, watering, and harvesting. Students participate in the seasonal Harvest Soup celebration where they share their fall crop with the community. The school chef also has a plot in the garden where vegetables and herbs are grown and used for student lunches.
  • Trees harvested from the site construction provided the material for Amish wood workers to craft school furniture.
  • Light poles came from salvaged telephone poles from Long Island, New York.
  • The school’s LEED Platinum building and regenerative landscape are an active part of the educational curriculum for all grade levels. For example, the second grade science class has studied the growing biodiversity of the stormwater wetland/detention pond since it was installed in 2002.
  • Landscape volunteers save the school $2,160 in weeding and maintenance costs each year, when compared to maintaining the same area with hired labor.
  • Setting clear sustainability goals at the beginning of the project would have significantly reduced design costs. The decision to pursue LEED green building standards and integrate stormwater and wastewater management was not made until design drawings were nearing completion.
  • Re-interpretation of municipal zoning regulations for stormwater management helped the school get the first zoning variance granted in Bedminster Township, New Jersey in 10 years and gain approval for the first constructed wetland in the county. Due to the success of the school’s wastewater treatment and storm water management systems, the Bedminster Zoning Board reconsidered its regulations.

Project Team

Landscape Architect: Back To Nature
Executive Architect: Farewell Mills Gatsch Architects, LLC
Environmental Engineer: Biohabitats Inc.
Wastewater Consultant: Natural Systems International
Structural Engineer: Harrison-Hamnett, P.C.
MEP Engineer: Joseph R. Loring and Associates, Inc.
Stormwater/Waste Management: Natural Systems International, LLC
Civil Engineer: Apgar Associates
Environmentalist: Natural Logic
Site Analysis Consultant: Regenesis Group, Inc.
General Contractor: Solid Wood Construction, LLC
Lighting and Materials Consultant: The Seven Group
Building Forensics: Camroden Associates
Commissioning Agent: Engineered Energy System 

Role of the Landscape Architect

The landscape architect collaborated with architects and environmental engineers to address the school’s vision for creating a healthy and regenerative environment. Specific responsibilities included landscape design, planting plan, forest management plan, LEED coordination, and local permitting.


Water conservation, Other water, Waste reduction, Educational value, Food production, Bioretention, Blackwater treatment, Food garden, Native plants, Rainwater harvesting, Reused/recycled materials, Trees, Wetland, 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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