Creating, expanding, or improving a green schoolyard


Thank you for your interest in working with SFUSD and its schools to create outdoor nature learning and play areas on school grounds. The process outlined in this document applies to you if you are planning to propose establishing any new green schoolyard element or space that the school community will maintain. 

Green Schoolyards can manifest in many ways including gardens, nature play or seating areas, outdoor classrooms, and tree plantings. Many, but not all, of these green schoolyard elements may require the removal of asphalt on a school yard, construction, and/or installation of something on school grounds (garden beds, storage sheds, cisterns, pathways, etc.). However, creating a green schoolyard element can also be as basic as identifying a space that is currently empty and planning to plant up and maintain this space. All of these scenarios require going through the following process.

While every project’s process may be different depending on the site, scale, and scope of the work being proposed, ultimately, SFUSD will need to know the following before a project can be endorsed or approved:

  1. What the goal/purpose and design of the new green schoolyard area/element is,
  2. If facilities or bond related construction is scheduled to take place on the school campus that may be affected by (or may affect) the proposed greening project,
  3. That existing conditions (underlying infrastructure, HazMat, drainage, sun/shade, site use, etc.) and site requirements (fire lanes, ADA access, pending construction  & other uses) have been identified, considered AND addressed in the proposed schedule, design AND budget,
  4. The Principal and school community is supportive of and has the capacity to maintain both new AND existing GSY areas long-term,
  5. What materials will be used,
  6. What funds will pay for proposed improvements, and
  7. The timeline for implementing proposed changes.

PHASE 1 - Site assessment

Conducting a site assessment and obtaining important site-related information early on can save time as greening plans are developed and refined. Site assessment includes both 

  1. the physical assessment of the space as well as 
  2. an assessment of the school community’s interest in and ability to create, use, and maintain both existing and proposed green schoolyard elements. As you are developing your greening proposal, follow these steps:


Prior to any new green schoolyard work being considered, the following items must be current and on file with SFUSD’s Green Schoolyard Manager (GSM):

  1. A site plan that outlines the green schoolyard areas of the school campus that the school  community is currently maintaining(1),
  2. A maintenance agreement signed by the principal and the school’s Green Schoolyard Liaison(2),
  3. A stewardship plan that identifies the specific school community members that are conducting the various tasks necessary to maintain existing green schoolyard areas.

To check if a school site has submitted these items or to obtain templates for any of these items, please contact SFUSD’s Green Schoolyard Manager at  

Once you have submitted these items, and obtained a new project check-list from the Green Schoolyard Manager you can begin the initial site assessment phase.



Make sure that the site’s Principal is aware and supportive of your greening plans as they develop. The purpose of the proposed green schoolyard elements should align with the goals and objectives that the school’s Principal and staff supports (i.e. if the school has a goal of promoting nutritional science, a food garden might be an appropriate green schoolyard element). GREEN SCHOOLYARD PROJECTS WILL NOT BE APPROVED WITHOUT THE PRINCIPAL’S SUPPORT & SIGN OFF.



Step 2 ensures that communication between SFUSD and your organization begins early on. Contact SFUSD’s GSM to discuss creating/expanding the school’s green schoolyard. The GSM may be able to provide some critical information before a proposal is fully formed. Be ready to discuss:

  • The goals of the Green Schoolyard expansion (including potential locations, timing for implementation, how the space will be used, and by whom),
  • Who at the site is supportive and willing to use and maintain this space, and
  • Whether the proposed expansion relates to green schoolyard elements identified in the site’s Green Schoolyard Master Plan (when applicable).


Once the GSM is informed of the general interest in creating a new green schoolyard element, she will assist you with:

  • Identifying relevant site-related constraints/existing conditions, and
  • Determining whether construction is slated to take place at the school that may relate to or impact the proposed green schoolyard elements.(3)


Please note that the GSM has limited time and resources. You should expect to spend time identifying at least some of the following relevant information:

  • Site Plans for existing facilities and future projects.
  • Current Fire Lane
  • Critical areas used by school site (PE(4), Garbage pick-up, Seating)
  • Current ADA Path of Travel
  • Current/historic civil drawings/underlying infrastructure
  • Area of refuge (if applicable)
  • Materials that require testing (surfaces, paint, soil) & materials that have been tested.
  • Existing water sources
  • Relevant existing conditions that should be taken into account (flooding, etc…)
  • Historic photos/aerial views of site (to see if there are any unforeseen conditions that can identified).
  • Site Stormwater Surface Drainage Flow.


If you are proposing a creative or new element or program, beyond the establishment of a new school community maintained garden space or typical green schoolyard elements (garden sheds, etc.), be sure to run the concept by the GSM early on so The District can consider whether it makes sense to implement on school grounds.

PHASE 2 - Design development

Once you have collected the information and provided the District with the documents detailed in Phase 1, the following phase must be completed before SFUSD will review a greening project for preliminary/conceptual approval or endorsement. 

IMPORTANT: You will need approximately four weeks to get through this phase with SFUSD, depending on the complexity of the project proposed. Please communicate with SFUSD’s GSM as soon as possible to ensure that your project stays on track.



If no issues arise during Step 0, 1 & 2 that would halt the proposed project, develop and submit a general scope of work and confirm the locations for the proposed green schoolyard elements. Make sure this proposal identifies and addresses any existing conditions or other important site requirements identified in Steps 1 & 2. SFUSD’s GSM will review this scope of work and provide you with feedback.



Using feedback given during Step 3, submit a draft proposal to the GSM. This proposal should include:

  1. A project narrative that clearly describes the proposed elements, what the purpose of each element is, how they will be used, and by whom.
  2. Project design plans and design details (including proposed materials to be used) that address the requirements of preserving (or removing) site elements as necessary,
  3. Draft budget,
  4. Draft planting plan,
  5. Draft timeline for project implementation,
  6. Detailed stewardship plan that identifies specific school community members that have committed to maintaining these proposed green schoolyard elements,
  7. Letter from the school principal indicating active support for the proposed changes and the school community’s willingness to maintain the elements included in the proposal in the long-term., and
  8. If students will be involved in the creation of the space, clearly outline the activities they will participate in.

In addition to the materials and labor costs associated with the project, a draft budget should include line items for the following, when relevant:

  • utility scanning
  • site materials testing (unless otherwise noted),
  • imported materials testing (soil, compost, etc…)(5)
  • Hazardous Material abatement, disposal, and monitoring (unless otherwise noted)(6)
  • a 15 - 20% contingency to address unforeseen conditions.



Depending on the scale and scope of the work, additional review may be necessary. When all necessary review has been completed and concerns have been addressed, the District can write a letter indicating support for the project, in concept.

PHASE 3 - Obtain a district permit


If you are proposing to make any physical modifications to a school campus (planting trees, building planter beds, installing a tool shed, or performing construction related work) the entity conducting the work must apply for and obtain a  Donated Improvements to School Facilities Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) from SFUSD’s Real Estate Department BEFORE work can commence. For more information, contact the Real Estate Office’s Cynthia Lam at

Good news: By following steps 0-4 of this process, you will already have a good amount of the information requested in the permit application completed. Allow at least 3 weeks for SFUSD staff to review/evaluate an MOU application. Once your MOU application has been approved, your project may be implemented as outlined in the MOU. Once the project is completed, SFUSD’s District Architect must review the elements installed to ensure that the project was installed per the approved MOU.

PHASE 4 - Maintaining your green schoolyard

While developing a maintenance plan is part of the proposal process outlined above, it is important to emphasize the need for school communities to:

  1. Take their maintenance plan seriously,
  2. Document what is going on in the green schoolyard so information can be passed down to the next generation of caretakers,
  3. Take ownership of their green schoolyard space, and
  4. Maintain all green schoolyard elements as soon as they are installed.

In the short-term, each member of the school community (staff, parents, teachers, students) that has committed to helping maintain these new elements needs to incorporate these tasks into their schedules. In the long-term, the school community must constantly recruit new community members to help sustain their green schoolyard spaces. One person should NOT be responsible for maintaining all aspects of a green schoolyard. This model is not sustainable. Roles and responsibilities associated with maintaining the green schoolyard need to be distributed to ensure that no one person is overwhelmed.


Your cooperation and engagement in this process is essential to the success of your proposed green schoolyard and any new element you wish to install. After you review this document, if you have any questions, contact SFUSD’s GSM, Tamar Barlev at, for more information.


(1)  A green schoolyard site plan outlines the areas of a school campus that are maintained by the school community. All areas not specifically identified on the site plan as part of the school’s green schoolyard will be maintained by SFUSD’s Landscaping Department as it sees fit.

(2)  Green Schoolyard Maintenance Agreements must be signed by the current principal and Green Schoolyard Liaison. See SFUSD’s Green Schoolyard Guidelines for a description of the Green Schoolyard Liaison.

(3)  If construction is taking place on the campus, SFUSD will have to conduct a more extensive review to determine if it is appropriate to approve the changes being proposed at this time. Depending on the scope of work, you may need to wait until the District’s construction project is complete to before the District will consider your proposal.

(4) If applicable, on-site PE staff as well as PE Department must be consulted to ensure proper communication.

(5) Consult with SFUSD’s GSM to determine what types of testing are necessary.

(6) If materials testing comes back negative, you may be able to direct the funds allocated towards abatement to elements that did not make the initial budget.

This page was last updated on June 6, 2022