California Resilience Challenge Spotlight: Transforming Schools Into Resilience Centers

This is one in a series of profiles of the 12 winners of the California Resilience Challenge, a first-of-its-kind statewide initiative of the Bay Area Council and a diverse array of partners. The Challenge recently awarded $2 million in planning grants for a variety of innovative projects in communities across the state to address the growing impacts of climate change, including drought, floods, wildfires and sea-level rise.

Increased precipitation and associated impacts of runoff related to climate change are anticipated to be serious concerns for communities across San Mateo County in future decades. Widespread implementation of green infrastructure will provide a measurable benefit to address the increased storm intensities and runoff volumes. Historically, schools have been left out of municipal stormwater planning due to their separate governance structures and site review processes.

Recognizing this gap in the overall strategy of managing stormwater, the City/County Association of Governments of San Mateo County (C/CAG) will develop concept plans to integrate green stormwater infrastructure into nine campuses in the San Carlos School District (SCSD).These plans will reduce and capture runoff for beneficial use on the school sites, minimize downstream flooding concerns, and build resiliency for urban heat island impacts through reduction in asphalt surfaces and incorporation of tree canopy and vegetation.

“Schools provide a significant and largely missed opportunity for integrating green stormwater infrastructure into the urban landscape in San Mateo County due to their large parcels and imperviousness that generate large volumes of stormwater runoff,” said Matt Fabry, Manager of the San Mateo Countywide Water Pollution Prevention Program. “By creating green schoolyard concepts, C/CAG and the SCSD will take an important step forward by constructing more resilient schools that capture, use, infiltrate, and clean stormwater runoff and protect downstream communities in San Francisco Bay.”

In addition to creating a more resilient environment, the project presents an exciting opportunity for environmental education and community engagement. The approach to planning and constructing project features will have students, families and community members involved each step of the way. 

“Teachers from all levels and disciplines will be able to find curricular connections, including environmental monitoring and science, horticulture, art/theater, literature, history and social studies. The emphasis will be on how to inspire students to become resilient leaders in their studies and experiences at school and within their communities by connecting to stewardship and caring for their new campus features,” explained Fabry.

These concept plans would demonstrate the potential for other San Mateo County school districts (23 total) to follow suit.

Special thanks to California Resilience Challenge funders PG&E, JPMorgan Chase & Co., Valley Water, Metropolitan Water District, Southern California Edison, Resources Legacy Fund, Alaska Airlines, SFPUC, SD Bechtel Jr. Foundation, and Pillsbury; and special thanks to Advisory Committee members AECOM, Pillsbury, Climate Resolve, Environmental Defense Fund, Ceres, and the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research. To learn more about the California Resilience Challenge, please contact Policy Associate Anna Sciaruto.

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