School Talk: Celebrated landscape firm Olin set to redesign Southwark Elementary’s schoolyard

Editor’s Note: School Talk is an occasional feature that looks at education in South Philly. If you have concerns, ideas, suggested topics or other thoughts about the state of schools and ways to keep improving them, email us at

Weighing in this time are Kate Clark and Chris Landau, members of the East Passyunk Crossing Civic Association’s education committee. To get involved with the committee or at Southwark, email

The Community Design Collaborative has awarded a service grant to help envision a greener future for Southwark Elementary, and acclaimed landscape architecture and planning firm OLIN has committed to doing the design work.

The current drab expanse.
A panorama of the current drab expanse.

The effort is still in the very early stages but the design services will be used to create a master plan to transform the school’s asphalt schoolyard on 8th and Mifflin to a green, unique playspace that would hopefully be open to the community when school is not in session.

The EPX Education Committee is also waiting to hear about its grant application to the Philadelphia Water Department, which would help to fund stormwater drain systems within the overall design. Southwark is specifically mentioned  as an ideal candidate for greening in PennPraxis’s Green 2015 action plan to create 500 new acres of greened public space in Philadelphia by 2015.  

A task force is being formed to begin a community discussion on design plans for the schoolyard. The aim of the Southwark schoolyard greening project is not only to give students a creative place to play, but also to provide a place for a highly diverse community to come together in a wonderful new space that Principal Andrew Lukov has dubbed ‘Dragon Green Park,’ named after Southwark’s dragon mascot.

“This is an important area that is used for morning line-up, recess, and assorted school events,” said Lukov, who began his tenure in July. “My goal is to create a unique playground, athletic area, and green oasis for our students and community.”

The school’s new art teacher assigned students the task of drawing a picture of their vision for a reimagined schoolyard to include with the grant application.

kids southwark2

kids southwark3

kids southwark1

Center City-based OLIN’s mantra is to “create places that enhance life,” which couldn’t be more appropriate for this project. The firm has worked on many of the city’s major landscape projects, including the Art Museum’s Sculpture Garden, the new Barnes Foundation, the Rodin Museum, Independence Mall, PAFA’s Lenfest Plaza and the coming redesign of Dilworth Plaza, not to mention their national and international projects.

Through the collaborative’s grant program, OLIN will meet with the task force in the summer and fall. They will create a conceptual design that aims to meet the needs of the school and the community as well as soaking up stormwater and, of course, creating places to play.

2 thoughts on “School Talk: Celebrated landscape firm Olin set to redesign Southwark Elementary’s schoolyard

  • February 26, 2014 at 1:02 pm

    I live around the corner, this is excellent news. Hopefully it can be something like Herron Sprayground in Pennsport. Next up, the redevelopment of the former Bok HS.

  • February 26, 2014 at 2:51 pm

    That’s nice for the neighborhood but REALLY good for the school and their kids! The children deserve a fun place to play!

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