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Changing Way Students Learn
HGOR’s Award-Winning Lovett School Project

By Linton Johnson, freelance writer for
Hughes, Good, O’Leary & Ryan

Above and Below: The stream and surrounding garden is dubbed “The Dell.” The HGOR design used native plant materials like Virginia sweetspire (Itea virginica), Lyrata (Guercus lyrata) and sand cord grass (Spartina bakeri) to restabilize the slopes of the stream. A series of sedimentation pools and stone channels help purify the water before it flows into the Chattahoochee River. Up stream is the amphitheatre (also seen at right), which makes use of Georgia granite for the seating.

“Progressive education’s ideal is that (the child) should be in relation to (the) school, ‘Like a tree planted by the rivers of water, which bringeth forth his fruit in his season.’” --Eva Edwards Lovett, founder of the Lovett School in Sept. 1926

With fewer than 1,500 students, the Lovett School is not significantly larger than it was in 1960 when the campus moved to its present 100-acre riverside location on Atlanta’s north side. But the educational needs of those students have changed dramatically over the past four decades, and in the late 1990s school leaders decided it was high time for a makeover.

Lovett is one of Atlanta’s most prestigious private, K-12 college preparatory schools. The first phase of its master campus plan included construction of a new Upper School and Lower School, along with major exterior renovations intended to improve the functionality and the appearance of the campus. A key objective of the plan was to increase the amount of green space and reduce the clutter of cars on campus.

The entry to the Upper School showcases the dawn redwood that was preserved and the campus standard Whitacre-Greer paving.

The landscape architectural and planning firm of Hughes, Good, O’Leary & Ryan Inc. (HGOR) and the building architectural firm, Shepley Bulfinch Richardson & Abbott (SBRA), were chosen for the opportunity and challenge of designing the outside improvements.

“Growth was not an issue for them. Most of the facilities were constructed in the early 1960s and were outdated,” said Brad Good, HGOR principal. “The school had not so much grown, but become an institution that needed to update its facilities to keep up with the times in which we live and the education trends of today. The plan was for new facilities and ultimately a new campus. With the new buildings came the outdoor spaces.”

Upon entering the Lovett campus, you forget that you are only minutes away from the Southeast’s economic capital and even closer to the intersection of two major interstate highways. The school grounds are well protected from the hustle-and-bustle by wooded areas on three sides and the Chattahoochee River to the north. Maintaining and enhancing the serene learning environment was vital to the project and also part of the challenge.

The brick pavers for Post Plaza are manufactured by Whitacre-Greer using three colors from their palette. The planters and seatwalls are Georgia granite. Other hardscaping included custom hand-seeded concrete paving, integrally-colored exposed aggregate, granite ruble and veneer site walls, granite curbs and steps and segmental retaining walls. The in-ground uplights are 9 1/2" fixtures from Hadco with 100w MH bulbs.

“The biggest challenge for Lovett from a physical standpoint was maintaining the natural environment while introducing new facilities. The campus is a wooded, almost mountainous site located in the Chattahoochee River corridor, thus the plan had to meet certain development mandates. It’s a beautiful site, and our primary goal was to maintain an aesthetic and environmental quality to the campus and really improve on that.”

After over two-year planning, which included gaining design approval from the city of Atlanta and the Atlanta Regional Commission, the team started construction in 2001. Phase 1A of the implementation plan took place on the north side of campus and with the new Upper School included the construction of a 300-space parking deck. The deck accommodates Upper School student vehicles during the school week and overflow parking for athletic and other events after hours. The deck enabled the previous student parking lot to be converted into a riverside athletic field, reclaiming more campus green space. Sidewalks were also added to make the campus more pedestrian friendly.

Post Plaza is an activity center and gathering area for the Upper and Middle Schools. Allee elm (Ulmus parvifolia), bosque lacebark elm and ‘Red Dragon’ Japanese maples (not shown) were selected for the plaza. Site amenities include heavyweight teak benches from Gardenside Ltd. (‘Glenmore’ model) and Hadco poles and luminaries (small Techtra CF72A series with 175w metal halide lamps).

“The primary concern regarding the deck was the visual impact. The location we chose at the edge of the campus minimized the impact yet functions well and lessens the amount of cars on the campus proper,” Good explained.

In addition, HGOR designed the new Post Plaza, which serves as an activity center and gathering area for the Upper and Middle Schools. Native southeastern boulders were hand selected by the landscape architect, then sited in the plaza to conform to the existing natural habitat on the campus.

On the south side, Phase 1B included the new Lower School and associated open space. A new playground for K-1 was also constructed. Various paving elements and material were used to create a passive/active place for children to interact. Scored patterns and textures are located within the two-toned colored concrete along with a central tricycle path weaving through the entire space.

Over 100 tons of southeastern decorative native stone were hand selected by the landscape architect. The contours of the stone make an interesting contrast to the pavers and bosque lacebark elm, while being consistent with the natural habitat of the campus.

Areas are designated for hopscotch and four-square play within the intricate paving patterns along with zones of synthetic turf and rubberized surfaces. Due to the high volume of foot traffic, it was essential from a design and practical sense to provide surfaces favorable to such use.

New state-of-the-art play equipment sits on a rubberized surface that makes it a safe play environment. When kids fall, and they will, the blow is softened by the spongy, four-inch-deep flooring. The Kompan equipment - while providing traditional activities such as climbing, sliding and swinging - is designed to appeal to young children, inviting role-play, sparking imagination and developing important fundamental skills. The recreational area is not only a play area, but also a multifunctional area for outside teaching.

The Mathis playfield of Tifway Bermuda sod covers 13,000 square feet. The 2.5" thick turf sits on a 4" graded aggregate base with a network of 12" HDPE piping for storm water detention per the Atlanta city code.

“The play spaces are somewhat unique,” Good said. “We were constrained by the area we had available but were able to get creative with some of the surfaces and the play equipment being age-specific. All of the area is handicapped accessible, and all safety zones have to be met from a criteria standpoint.”

Phase II construction of the playground will begin this June, focusing on grades 2-5. Expansions will include 8,000 square foot synthetic turf grass, 5,000 square feet of pour-in-place rubberized surfacing, Kompan multi-use pieces (Argo, Super Nova and Bellatrix), two basketball hoops, two swings, a climbing wall and a small amphitheater.

The second part of Phase 1B was restoring the stream that runs through the Lovett campus. Before redesigning the area, the team had to make sure they followed certain environmental codes, as the stream is a tributary to the Chattahoochee. Mitigation of the stream began once it was approved by city and state agencies.

Above and Below: Zones of synthetic turf (FIELDturf) were incorporated into the lower playground. HGOR Project Manager Lauren Standish describe the profile as “4-5 inches of 89 stone with 2-inch granite screenings and 2.5-inch lawn grass consisting of graded silica sand and ground rubber mixture at an approximately 6-7 pounds per square foot.”

Phase II construction of the playground will begin in June 2005 and focus on grades 2-5. Expansions will include 8,000 sq. ft. of synthetic grass, 5,000 sq. ft. of poured-in-place rubberized safety surfacing, Kompan multi-use play equipment (Argo, Super Nova and Bellatrix), two basketball hoops, two swings, a climbing wall and a small amphitheatre.

The HGOR design used native plant materials to restabilize the slopes of the stream and developed series of sedimentation pools and stone channels to help purify the water before flowing into the river. The completed stream and the surrounding garden, known as “The Dell,” serves as the focus to the Lower School and provides environmental education opportunities.

HGOR also coordinated the planting of native plant material in the areas adjacent to the Chattahoochee River.

“The riverbank was overwhelmed by exotic invasive shrubs and vines which continued to choke out the native ecosystem,” Good explained. “We knew if we simply removed this material, it would return. So we replanted the bank with native riparian plants which could offer some competition and provide critical slope stabilization along the Chattahoochee River.”

The multi-use equipment for the playground also includes Antares & Enif products. This element, at 9' high, can accommodates 20-30 kids. Falls from these heights are mitigated by rubberized safety surfacing (by Surface America), poured-in-place to a depth of 4 inches. There is 5,000 square feet of the rubberized surfacing at Lovett.

Along with the restoration of the stream was the reestablishment of a Memorial Garden displaced by the last two years of construction and establishing an adjacent garden in honor of a former headmaster and his wife. Located in front of the Lower School, the gardens are dedicated to the founder, Eva Edwards Lovett, and in grateful appreciation of the school’s most recent former headmaster, Dr. Jim Hendrix.

The Dell contains an amphitheater, sculpture garden and many learning areas for teachers to take their classes outside. Throughout the entire garden, engraved rocks are etched with inscriptions of importance to Mrs. Lovett and inspirational sayings from famous authors used frequently by Dr. Hendrix, who envisioned this upgrade for a more suitable learning atmosphere.

Scored patterns and textures are located within the two-toned colored concrete, with a tricycle path weaving through the entire space. Areas are designated for hop-scotch and four-square play within the intricate paving patterns along with zones of synthetic turf and rubberized surfaces.

Engraved (sandblasted) into the limestone boulders throughout the garden are inscriptions important to the school’s founder, Eva Edwards Lovett, and inspirational sayings from famous authors used frequently by the former headmaster, Dr. Hendrix.

HGOR’s work on the Lovett renovation was recognized by a national publication honoring education design excellence. The project earned a Landscape Architecture Citation for outstanding design in the 2004 Architectural Portfolio of American School & University magazine, having been chosen from the entries of architectural firms across the country.

The Lovett School has seen many changes in its nearly 80-year history. None have been quite as dramatic or positive as in the implementation of the master campus plan, which has helped develop the grounds into a multifunctional campus that meets the needs of modern-day education, while preserving its peaceful serenity and environmental quality.

“We worked with a quality group of people at Lovett who really had a vision,” Good said.

The walk behind the stream is a crushed granite with a border of 8"x4" granite cobble set flush, fringed by black inkberry (Ilex glabraa), a hardy, evergreen, spineless native holly that stays full to the ground and grows 3-4' tall, 4-5' wide, The holly holds a crop of black berries throughout the winter.

“The vision of the master plan was followed through to the implementation projects. The quality of the buildings designed by SBRA and the quality of the environment was just what you thought it would be when completed. The success of the projects is a tribute to the Lovett community,” Good concluded.

Hughes, Good, O’Leary & Ryan Inc. is an internationally recognized firm in Atlanta, Ga., that embraces creating places of social value with an eye to economic sustainability and environmental stewardship. The staff of 32 comprises planners, urban designers, landscape architects, environmental specialists and support staff.

For more information, visit


The Lovett School
Landscape Architectural Firm:
Hughes, Good, O'Leary & Ryan Inc.
Brad Good
Project Manager:
Lauren Standish
Building Architectural Firm:
Shepley Bulfinch Richardson & Abbott
General Contractor:
Brasfield & Gorrie, LLC
Hardscape Contractor:
Site Technologies, Inc., Roswell, Ga.
Landscape Contractor:
OMNI Landscape Group.

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June 27, 2019, 2:08 am PDT

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