Northside Learning Center in Chicago serves students aged 14 to 22 with intellectual disabilities and impaired adaptive functioning. The skills they are taught at this school help them achieve independent living.


A decades-old greenhouse was proposed to be upgraded to provide much needed space and new equipment for students at the school. During the early stages of design, a serious issue with flooding was identified – water was inundating the new sensory gardens, flooding walkways, and even overtopping doorway thresholds and coming into the school. The challenge was to replace the greenhouse and solve the flooding issue while staying within budget and being finished on time.


After a careful site analysis, it was determined that much of the flooding issue was coming from buildings that did not have gutters or downspouts to move rainwater away from the buildings. The solution was to include gutters and downspouts on the new greenhouse, replace all walkways with permeable pavers and use them as conduits to move water from one side of the building to existing infrastructure. Rain gardens were also added to the sensory gardens.


By replacing old sidewalks with permeable pavers and using them as conduits to move water, the project eliminated tremendous cost and time by not having to reroute water via large pipes, reducing expensive excavations, and eliminating the need to cut open a heavily traveled public road to upgrade a stormwater connection to the City of Chicago stormwater system. The pavers also reduced time for permitting and construction, which allowed the project to open prior to the start of the new year. Within the sensory gardens, stormwater inlets were exchanged for rain gardens that move runoff around the school and into existing infrastructure. To date, the school has not had a single issue with standing water.