Space to Grow is led by managing partners Healthy Schools Campaign and Openlands, and brings together capital funds and leadership from Chicago Public Schools, the Chicago Department of Water Management and the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago. This unique collaboration is dedicated to creating a brighter, greener, healthier future for our city. Each partner believes that schools are central to community life, making them an ideal focus for collaboration.

Managing Partners


Healthy Schools Campaign
Healthy Schools Campaign (HSC) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to making schools healthier places for all students. HSC believes that health and wellness should be incorporated into every aspect of the school experience. Founded in 2002, HSC advocates for children to have better access to nutritious school food, physical activity, school health resources and clean air to shape their lifelong learning and health. HSC facilitates collaboration between students, parents, teachers, administrators and policymakers to help prepare this diverse group of stakeholders to lead change for healthier schools at the school, district, state and national levels. For more information, visit

“Space to Grow is a diverse partnership to improve student health by creating exciting outdoor spaces for recess and PE, and to bring communities together in healthy and active ways. Healthy students are better learners, and it’s imperative that we incorporate student health into all aspects of the school experience. That literally starts with the school grounds.”
–Rochelle Davis, Healthy Schools Campaign President + CEO



Founded in 1963, Openlands protects the natural and open spaces of northeastern Illinois and the surrounding region to ensure cleaner air and water, protect natural habitats and wildlife and help balance and enrich our lives. Openlands’ vision for the region is a landscape that includes a vast network of land and water trails, tree-lined streets and intimate public gardens within easy reach of every city dweller. It also includes parks and preserves big enough to provide natural habitat and to give visitors a sense of the vast prairies, woodlands and wetlands that were here before the cities. In sum, Openlands believes that protected open space is critical for the quality of life of our region. For more information, visit

“Space to Grow is an example of the power of what can be accomplished for our communities when multiple partners work together in concert. Instead of looking at the problem of stormwater flooding in Chicago neighborhoods as a single issue to be addressed by one organization or agency, the program seizes the opportunity with dynamic solutions that not only address flooding, but create multiple benefits for students, neighborhoods and natural systems in our city.”
–Jerry Adelmann, Openlands President and CEO

Capital Partners


Chicago Public Schools
The Chicago Public Schools’ (CPS) mission is to create a system of schools that prepares every student in every community to succeed in college and career. As the nation’s third largest school district, CPS recognizes that it can be a model for the nation in delivering programs that maximize the intersection of education and health. CPS serves 400,00 students at over 658 schools, representing 80 percent of all school-aged children in Chicago. For more information, visit


Chicago Department of Water Management
The Department of Water Management (DWM) protects public health in the most environmentally and fiscally responsible manner by delivering a sufficient supply of exceptional quality water and efficiently managing waste and stormwater. To achieve this mission, over 2,000 DWM employees manage a complex infrastructure network that includes two water purification plants, 12 pumping stations, 4,300 miles of water mains and 4,400 miles of sewers. Under Mayor Emanuel’s leadership, the City will replace 900 miles of water mains, replace or reline 700 miles of sewers and line 160,000 catch basins over a ten-year period. DWM is also investing $50 million over a 5-year period to build green stormwater infrastructure that will reduce flooding and improve water quality. For more information, visit the Chicago Department of Water Management


Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago
Established in 1889, the MWRD is an award-winning, special purpose government agency responsible for wastewater treatment and stormwater management in Cook County, Illinois. The MWRD protects the health and safety of the public in its service area, protects the quality of the water supply source (Lake Michigan), improves and protects the quality of water in watercourses, protects businesses and homes from flood damages and manages water as a vital resource. The MWRD’s service area is 883.5 square miles of Cook County, Illinois. The MWRD is committed to achieving the highest standards of excellence in fulfilling its mission. For more information, visit

Evaluation Partners

Loyola University
Nutrition Policy Institute at the University of California
Space to Grow is working with Loyola University and the Nutrition Policy Institute at the University of California to conduct a larger longitudinal study investigating the links between green schoolyards and outcomes including students’ behaviors, school attendance, teacher morale, frequency of schoolyard use and neighborhood trust and safety. The evaluation team will focus on assessing changes in schoolyard utilization, impacts to student academic performance and well-being, changes to the school environment and post-transformation changes in community engagement and cohesion.

United States Geological Survey (USGS)
Project partners are implementing a stormwater evaluation plan, in partnership with the United States Geological Survey (USGS). The plan includes monitoring for both the volume of capture as well as the quality of the runoff from Space to Grow schoolyards. Monitoring goals also include calculating the cost effectiveness of technologies at each site (i.e., cost per gallon captured) and preparing a report of findings to be disseminated to the green infrastructure community.

Thank you!

We would like to thank the following for their generous support of Space to Grow.

Aetna Foundation
Advocate Health Care
Central Indiana Community Foundation
Chi-Cal Rivers Fund
The Crown Family
IMC Chicago Charitable Foundation
Illinois Coastal Management Program
W.K. Kellogg Foundation
Kresge Foundation
National Fish & Wildlife Foundation
Northern Trust
Polk Bros. Foundation
Prince Charitable Trusts
The Conservation Fund
The Siragusa Family Foundation
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

The Partnership

Healthy Schools Campaign and Openlands serve as the managing partners for Space to Grow. HSC has been working for years to make schools healthier places for all students, from advocating for healthier school food to reinstating recess and helping the district revamp its physical education program to meet the health and wellness needs of all students. Through that work, HSC realized that schoolyards at many Chicago schools were in disrepair and couldn’t support all the positive changes the district was making. Openlands is a 53-year-old organization dedicated to protecting the Chicago region’s natural and open spaces and connecting people of all ages with nature. Openlands has a long history of advocating for healthy waterways and working with Chicago schools to connect students and communities with nature and build school gardens. Both organizations saw Space to Grow as a powerful extension of their previous work and came together to create a vision for green schoolyards.

Space to Grow is a partnership between these nonprofits, Chicago Public Schools and the region’s two public water utilities: the City of Chicago Department of Water Management and the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago . These partners each had different goals and had not previously worked together as a group. Despite this, the partners created a joint vision to move this program forward.

The circumstances that led to the participation of the water utilities highlight how shared interests can be leveraged to secure funding and widespread support. Through a consent decree, MWRD had a directive from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to install green infrastructure within its geographic area. As Openlands’ focus includes water conservation, it identified that MWRD needed opportunities and had a shared interest in positively impacting and engaging communities with this mandate. CDWM was also making a financial commitment to support the installation of green stormwater infrastructure in its effort to help offset basement flooding. Making these links was instrumental in creating a mutually beneficial opportunity for not only the water utilities in Chicago, but also Openlands, HSC and CPS.

The water utilities provide capital funding, help to identify schools in neighborhoods with flooding problems and also contribute expertise to the design and construction of green infrastructure elements. CPS provides capital funding and expertise, hires the design teams and manages the construction of the schoolyards.

The school communities come together to help design and build the new schoolyards. Involved in meetings with Healthy Schools Campaign and Openlands from the very beginning, administrators, parents, teachers, area residents and students contribute ideas and concerns during the planning phase and the architects design the schoolyards to fit the needs of each school community. After the schoolyards are complete, Openlands and HSC work with the schools and communities to ensure that the schoolyards are maintained, and that the students, staff and community members have the knowledge and skills to take full advantage of their new assets. In total, Openlands and HSC commit to three years of support and programming for each Space to Grow schoolyard.