June 20, 2022
Chicago Public Schools’ Talcott Fine Arts and Museum Academy is the first and only museum school in the Chicago metropolitan area, in partnership with the Art Institute, the Field Museum, and the National Museum of Mexican Art, to provide their students unique opportunities at the world-class institutions. The bilingual school emphasizes a hands-on, inquiry-based learning style. It was in need of an updated outdoor space to support them in that mission.
After several years of fundraising, the school recently hosted a groundbreaking ceremony as construction starts on the new recreation field and playground that will provide students with upgraded features and improved safety including new drainage and asphalt. Parents, students and local officials secured approximately $1.4M through the state budget, city budget and grant programs.
Epstein, the project’s Engineer of Record, partnered with Burhani Design Architects, who helped explore several design concepts. Juli Ordower Landscape Architect provided landscape architecture services. After much discussion with the Talcott staff, the team developed a concept that kept the overall form of the original site, but greatly improved usability.
Talcott’s existing outdoor play lot consisted of a grassy play field, a playground, and an asphalt track and sport court area. The field did not hold up well against heavy usage, the playground was dated, and the track and sport court had limited play options. The concept called for grass field replacement with turn striped for a combination baseball/soccer field. The shape of the playground area remained the same, but new equipment was selected and new pavement coloring added around the area. The track and sport court were also modified, adding a new combination volleyball court and basketball half court, and custom seating with planters for a new social space.
One of the most significant new additions to the design was a new dedicated community garden area, with raised planters and seating. Due to Talcott’s hands-on learning style, the teachers strongly desired to create an outdoor classroom, as well as an opportunity for community involvement. The form of this space was determined with input from a committee of interested teachers and design support from the team. The result was a set of curved planters that students could wander through, with adjacent bench seating.
When applying the concept design to the site, several challenges emerged. One issue was stormwater management. As most of the site was being disturbed, the city stormwater department required that detention be provided. Epstein chose stone void storage underneath the permeable artificial turf field. More information was needed about the underground storm system in order to confirm the feasibility of this design and design the outlet piping, outside of what was available from the survey. Epstein had sewer televising performed, which also had the advantage of evaluating the condition of the existing system. From these results, Epstein decided to proceed with the detention under the field, and reuse much of the existing storm sewer, which was in good condition.
While maintaining communication with the Talcott staff and CPS, Epstein developed construction drawings and specifications, acquired the necessary permits through coordination with Chicago Department of Buildings and MOPD, and assisted in construction administration.