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The following data-gathering activities form the foundation for proper land use planning. Gathering all the data required may take between one and two years to complete.

Site plan

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Photo: Ruth Doucette

Obtain a copy of the site plan from the school board or your local municipality. An up-to-date site plan will show the location of all buildings, drainage areas, and access points. A landscaping plan showing trees and other vegetation may also be available.
Thoroughly check the site plan because some elements marked on the plan may no longer exist and others that have been added to the grounds may not yet appear on the plan (see Site Design).

Land ownership

Check the ownership of the grounds. Sometimes a portion of the land is owned by the municipality or another agency.

Land-use agreements

When land is jointly owned with the local municipality, school boards and the municipal government may have agreements in place for recreational activities on the grounds outside school hours. This should be checked with the school board.

Topographical maps

Old topographical maps showing former natural contours and features, the sites of old buildings, and the historic uses of the land often prove useful. For example, the site of an old filled-in pond could when excavated provide ideal conditions for a small wetland or a new pond.

Site plan evaluation

Ask a planner at your municipal parks and recreation or planning department to assist you by visiting your school to interpret the site plan and explain surveying techniques. This would help your school examine the physical environment and measure the grounds for the purpose of making to-scale maps and models to work from.

Mapping and measuring site use

In the process of measuring and mapping the grounds much will be learnt about the present daily uses of the site. Maintenance staff, teachers, the police and the fire department can add their own requirements and uses to the map to give a more complete picture.

Observing daily site use

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Students can observe and map the daily use of the site to determine how people, wildlife and vehicles access and utilize different places. They can also interview caretaking staff and neighbours to find out how the grounds are used after hours.

  • The areas of the grounds most and least favoured by children should be noted.
  • Through the site-use survey, the potential for transforming the grounds can be assessed and the spaces most suitable for greening identified.
  • Students can record the uses of the site on the site plan and also transfer them to a model of the grounds (see Site Design).

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Studying the physical environment

Students can study the physical environment through mapping, measuring and examining the site plan. An example of the site measuring tasks students engaged in at an Ottawa area school is provided (see Sample Surveys ).


Begin a photographic record of the site throughout the seasons, and of every stage of project's development. Photographing bare expanses of asphalt and grass may seem a waste of film now, but in a decade's time people may be curious to know what the grounds were like at the start of, and during, the transformation process.


It is vital to communicate with both the school and the wider community throughout the process. During times of intensive data gathering, it may seem as though nothing much is going on. This is when it is particularly important to keep people informed about the project. Every week there could be a special section in the school newsletter devoted to project activities and grounds greening news items.

Project supporting activities

  • Establish a permanent display area in a highly visible location in the school where grounds greening models and maps can be exhibited, and log books, files and databases accessed at any time.
  • Make a three-dimensional model of the school and its grounds showing existing natural features and an indication of the wildlife that already lives there.
  • Display the photographs taken throughout the year to make a visual record of the grounds as they are, the seasonal changes, and the transformation process.
  • Start a log book for the purpose of beginning a history of the project and recording observations and events.
  • Create a database of information and resources on school grounds greening.
  • Have students measure the dimensions of all elements on the site.

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