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Collegiate School

by Scott Carson, Landscape Architect, Director of Facilities Management & Construction, Collegiate School

Two-foot square safety surfacing tiles (SofTile by SofSurfaces) replaced the wood chip surfacing on the Fort Cougar playground at the Collegiate School in Richmond, Virginia. The ‘multigrain’ and ‘spring-meadow’ colored tiles are set in a grid over a concrete slab.

Collegiate School is an Independent K-12 day school in Richmond, Virginia with an enrollment of just under 1,600 students. The essence of Collegiate is the interaction of students, faculty, parents, administrators and alumni in a dynamic learning community with high personal and academic expectations. This exceptional educational environment enables Collegiate students to develop their potential for intellectual growth, leadership and service.

In 2009, the school and an important donor began discussing the creation of new and renovated Lower School facilities to support growing program and space demands. These discussions evolved into a program of strategic improvements for Luck Hall (kindergarten and the Cougar Quest after-school program), Reynolds Hall (grades 1-2) and Nunnally Hall (grades 3-4).


The ribbon cutting ceremony for the renovation of the Collegiate School’s Lower School playground (“Fort Cougar”) was celebrated when the students returned from spring break. Collegiate School is an Independent K-12 day school with an enrollment of just under 1,600 students.

Site improvement work, done in conjunction with the building additions, was a collaborative effort between Collegiate faculty, staff and consultants. The intent of the site improvements was to create engaging, appealing and functional spaces, including renovation of Fort Cougar (Lower School playground), and the additions of a special outdoor classroom and reading patio for the Cougar Quest program.


The landscape grades surrounding the playground were increased to direct stormwater toward drain inlets, and the perimeter curb along the playground’s north edge (lower right) has variable heights for the same purpose. The sod is Riviera Bermuda. The new three-post swing set (Burke Premier Play Environments), anchored into the concrete slab, replaced the older unit and complements the existing play structure.


As the design work unfolded a series of logistical challenges quickly surfaced. Plans and contingencies were developed for:

  • Sequencing construction within three academic buildings during the school year, and rerouting pedestrian circulation safely around all work areas.
  • Relocating one of three student drop-off and pick-up zones and faculty parking areas.
  • Relocating the Cougar Quest program and certain administrative offices for six months during the rebuild.
  • Fast-tracking renovation work during the summer programs, and completing the work in time for the opening day of school.
  • Protecting the Fort Cougar structure and relocating certain play equipment for temporary recreational space.
  • Moving faculty/staff into their new spaces during Christmas break.

These challenges were addressed directly, honestly and cooperatively by the school and its contractors, who exhibited a high standard of professionalism and patience. The contractors maintained an accelerated schedule to help Collegiate achieve its completion date goal.


The new outdoor classroom between the new Reynolds Science addition (background) and the Watt Library Portico sports a circular hardscape with a colored concrete compass rose pattern in graphite, brick red and Spanish gold, with surrounding plantings of serviceberry, Carolina allspice, Burford holly, liriope and ajuga. For fun and color, a curved metal-banded caterpillar is set in the garden with cornuta and Burford hollies spaced between the bands. The hollies are filling in nicely to create a topiary (inset).

Building Construction
Work began just after the June 6, 2011 Lower School graduation and was aggressively executed, with classroom renovations completed on schedule in late August. The rapid pace continued with the building additions. In late December, a temporary certificate of occupancy was issued for Reynolds and Luck Halls. On New Year’s Eve, furniture and equipment were moved into the new science classroom, Cougar Quest and office spaces.


Excavated soil from site grading created a berm along the north edge of the playground for “king of the hill” play (right). Red maples planted between the Reynolds Hall bay windows soften the façade and provide shade.


Outdoor Classroom
With the building additions completed in November, site construction moved ahead unencumbered. The winter of 2011-12 was exceptionally mild, permitting steady work and the completion of the outdoor classroom by February. This site, between the Reynolds Science Addition and Watt Library portico, was a seldom-used hardscape populated with a grid of dwarf Japanese maples and chess tables. The new vision for this space centered on the addition of lush plantings, and making it inherently more flexibility for teaching and exploration. It was important for the school that the “placemaking” principles learned about and explored during workshops with the people from Project for Public Spaces (PPS) were applied in the design.

Editor’s note: PPS is a nonprofit planning, design and educational organization “dedicated to helping people create and sustain public spaces.” PPS, founded in 1975, continues the vision of William Whyte’s 1980 study of New York City plazas, The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces. PPS reports having completed some 2,500-community projects.


Teachers use the compass rose pattern at the outdoor classroom for core lessons in geography and small group activities.

By applying these placemaking principles, this space, and the campus landscape in general, would have aesthetic appeal and contain cues and components that strengthened the connections between the campus, students, families and employees.

The classroom is a circular colored-concrete hardscape with a compass rose pattern shaded in graphite, brick red and Spanish gold. The design encourages gathering “in the round” for classes and meetings and allows for flexibility when desired. Offsetting the hardscape is a surrounding assortment of plants chosen for their hardiness, scale, color and fragrance. For fun and color, a curved metal-banded caterpillar is set in the garden with cornuta and burford hollies spaced between the bands. When mature, the hollies will fill the gaps and create a topiary.


Two adjustable-height basketball goals (Goalrilla) were added to diversify the play activities. The curbed planters offer red maples, cornuta hollies and liriope.


Fort Cougar Playground
The Fort Cougar playground for the Lower School was installed in 2001 in the “valley” between Reynolds and Luck Halls. Its hardwood mulch surface, poor drainage and older swing set were perennial maintenance and aesthetic issues.

The project presented an opportunity to recreate and enliven the play area and solve these long-standing problems. Simple changes such as tile surfacing to replace the mulch, a new swing set to replace the older unit and complement the existing play structure, better stormwater conveyance, and strategically placed landscape features were all that was needed to solve the problems.


The flush perimeter curb envelopes the west, south and east sides of the playground. Kwanzaan cherries and ‘Encore’ azaleas are in the raised planters along the west side of the playground (foreground, left). The curbs help keeps foot traffic out of the planted areas. The trench drain (right) captures sheet flow in advance of the tile when it rains.


The Fort Cougar play structure was in the heart of the work zone and fenced off during construction, but the swing set and a pavilion were relocated to create a temporary play area, making way for construction traffic. The school replaced the old swing set with a color-matched three-post assembly, which improved appearance and safety and provided additional play space.

The new safety surfacing for the playground (24-inch square SofTile from SofSurfaces) was selected based on appearance, safety, durability and 10-year warranty. The tiles are set in a grid, using multigrain and spring-meadow colors over a concrete slab.

The grid pattern is similar to the tile grids installed in the adjacent Cougar Quest addition, providing an indoor-outdoor visual link. Tile installation began in early March, and students cheered loudly as this work started, right before spring break.


The “Cougar Quest” (K-7 after school program) reading patio on the west side of Luck Hall is a semi-secluded space surrounded by plantings of Mohawk viburnum, serviceberry, burning bush, ‘Encore’ azaleas, Schip laurel, liriope and fountain grass. Cougar Quest students created the tile pavers at the perimeter of the patio, which add color, help channel drainage and contain the mulch beds.


A variable height perimeter curb surrounds the tile to help channel drainage and direct foot traffic. Weep holes and drain inlets on the slab ensure proper drainage below the tile. A trench drain runs along the edge of the tile to capture flow in advance of the playground; there are also area drains. The surrounding landscape grades were increased to direct stormwater toward inlets. The excavated soil made for a semicircular berm along the north edge of the playground for “king of the hill” play.

In keeping with the school’s desire for “placemaking” generous plantings, a stepping stone path and other amenities add to the playground. In the hardscape areas curbed planters direct foot traffic and reduce trampling. Strategic plant locations create shaded seating areas. Red maples are the site’s large trees. The smaller trees are ‘Kwanzaan’ cherry, serviceberry ‘Autumn Brilliance’, Foster’s holly and Nellie Stevens holly. The plant palette focuses on a range of species tested on campus for their hardiness, color, texture and beauty. The shrub selections are anise tree, Burford holly, Carolina allspice, Chinese fringe flower, compact burning bush, ‘Encore’ azalea, fountain grass, Indian hawthorne, Japanese garden juniper, Korean spice viburnum, Mohawk viburnum, schip laurel, ‘Sunny’ knockout rose and tea olive.


The gazebo is flanked by Foster’s holly, ‘Encore’ azaleas, ‘Knockout’ roses, liriope and stepping stones. Kingsley-Bate six-ft. ‘Derby’ benches, ‘Waverly’ five-ft. backless benches and Rubbermaid trash receptacles (Belson Outdoors) are located throughout the play area.


When students returned from their spring break, they found a revitalized playground. A ribbon cutting ceremony officially reopened the playground to the excited delight of excited students and faculty.

Despite several challenges, the cooperation and collaboration of the school, its consultants, contractors and vendors resulted in updated classroom buildings that support growing programs and a transformed landscape with engaging, appealing and functional spaces. For the students, these spaces add to the exceptional educational environment that is Collegiate School and clearly have the ability to support them in the development of their true potential.


Burke Premier Play Environments: Swing Set
Collins Wharf Sod Farm
Goalrilla: Basketball Goals
James River Nurseries: Landscape Plant Materials
JoPa Co.: Benches
Louis Smith Construction, WR Grace & Co.: Concrete Curb, Sidewalks, Colored Concrete
Luck Stone: Stone Materials
Morris Industries: Caterpillar Sculpture Metal Fabrication:
Nyloplast: Drain Inlets
Riverside Brick: Masonry
SofSurfaces: SofTile Playground Surfacing
Sovereign Paving: Asphalt Pavement
Toro: Irrigation Materials
Trash Receptacles: Belson Outdoors
Westview Companies: Signage
Zurn: Trench Drains


Project Team
Owner: Collegiate School
Architect: Boynton Rothschild Rowland
Project Architect: Jim Rothschild
Building Contractor: Hourigan Construction
Civil Engineer: Draper Aden Associates
Randy Rivinus, Project Team Leader
David Maruskin, Civil Engineer
Landscape Designer: Angela Werner
Irrigation/Sod Installation: Earthworks and Sprinklers
Matt Harder, Project Manager
Landscape Architect: Scott Carson, CLA
Director of Facilities Management & Construction: Collegiate School
Landscape Contractor: James River Nurseries
Playground Tile Installation: Cunningham Recreation
Gregg Dollings, Project Manager
Signage Installation: Westview Companies
Rusty Perkins, Project Manager
Site Contractor: FG Pruitt, Inc.
Trey Pruitt, Project Manager

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November 12, 2019, 3:55 pm PDT

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