San Diego Unified School District Adopts Silva Cells in Site Modernization Plans Across Seven Schools in Two Years: Case Study

The San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD) is teaching by example, adding Silva Cells to its campuses. As part of the SDUSD site modernization plan, this year two schools added Silva Cells to their campus, and five more SDUSD schools will be exploring Silva Cells as part of the underground bioretention strategy for their campus development and redevelopment throughout 2020 and beyond.

After learning about the success of the San Diego waterfront community, Del Mar, a seven-block streetscape improvement and underground bioretention project, SDUSD was interested in incorporating Silva Cells. Both schools that have completed the installation of Silva Cells within the SDUSD and as part of the site modernization plan were designed by  Schmidt Design Group. University City High and Gompers Preparatory Academy saw installations earlier this year, and Civita Elementary is ongoing and is to follow suit. Currently, four other SDUSD projects propose Silva Cells as part of their Green Infrastructure solution. See the map below for locations and phases of projects.

This is the first time SDUSD has utilized underground bioretention, suspended pavement, green infrastructure technology. The primary focus for the two projects in 2020 was the trees’ long-term health and viability, but both projects also have the capacity to receive street runoff from paved surfaces. The schools are building sustainable urban spaces.

An important collateral advantage of these projects is the ability to educate the student body about the value of lightly compacted soil for tree health. In addition to the schools utilizing Silva Cell technology, which marries soil health and healthy tree growth, DeepRoot is hoping to see SDUSD approve signage with relevant content about Silva Cells and the bioretention process happening beneath the students’ feet and to continue to prioritize green infrastructure solutions.

 “We are going to encourage signage showing a graphic display intended to convey information on the Silva Cell technology and its benefits to the school children and the community” – SDUSD District Architect, David Koepcke

University City High School

6949 Genesee Ave., San Diego, 92122, 2 miles inland from La Jolla


The school was constructed in 1980. The 43-acre campus has seen several additions and redevelopments over the past eight years, including classroom lab improvements, more efficient pickup and drop-off locations, and the installation of solar panels on the roof of car park shade structures. In 2019, however, another improvement was made with the installation of 24 2x Silva Cells. The nearly 2,000-strong student body likely didn’t know what was afoot or underfoot during the installation of the two trees on campus. The class of 2025, perhaps, will see the fruits of the Silva Cells’ hidden labor supporting the two melaleuca linariifolia trees recently installed.

The trees are planted adjacent to the child development center of the High School. Just this month The Guardian reported that nature can help reduce autoimmune diseases, “Children whose outdoor play areas were transformed from gravel yards to mini-forests showed improved immune systems within a month, research has shown.”

While the class of 2021 works virtually, the Silva Cells are working onsite to retain soil volume and manage stormwater, bolstering the trees’ strength in order to welcome students back to campus and stand tall for years to come.

Gompers Preparatory Academy,

1005 47th St., San Diego, CA,92102

In May 2020, Gompers Preparatory Academy would mimic University High School’s plan with the same landscape design group, Schmidt, integrating 24 2x Silva Cells and the planting of four trees. Gompers Academy is in the center of San Diego and borders highway 15. Younger than University High School by 25 years, the school opened in 2005 spanning 26 acres. The school values respect, hard work, achievement, enthusiasm, and citizenship, to name but a few traits. In addition, the school will now have the added external benefit of healthy, sustainable trees. Big, strong trees provide more benefits than just clean air. Studies show they contribute to positive effects on mental health that are vital in today’s world: decreasing stress and anxiety and providing a space to cool off and unwind between classes. With the support of Silva Cells, the Tipuana tipu and Quercus virginiana trees will be able to provide these essential ecosystem and mental health advantages for generations of students and teachers alike.

“Collaboration is always good and green solutions are always great for the children and the community. We are pleased with your product Silva Cells on our project sites”- SDUSD District Architect, David Koepcke

Civita Elementary School

 7900 Civita Blvd., San Diego, CA 92108

With an increasing population in the Mission Valley neighborhood of San Diego, a new elementary school that can host up to 500 preK through 5th grade students is under construction. There are dedicated play areas for preschool, kindergarten, and 1st- through 5th-grade students; “makerspaces” for students. Here is a glimpse of what the school will look like when it is finally unveiled in spring of 2022. Civita Elementary School is an ongoing project that will ultimately utilize a combined total of 162 1x, 2x, and 3x Silva Cells to support 12 Handroanthus impetiginosus and Lagerstroemia x ‘Natchez’ trees. Silva Cells will enhance the soil volume for trees near the stairs, tree grates, and the play area. These trees should grow for decades, offering young students shade in the ever-hotter spring and fall days of Southern California.

The Division of the State Architect (DSA) provides design and construction oversight for K–12 schools, community colleges, and various other state-owned and leased facilities. The division develops accessibility, structural safety, and historical building codes and standards utilized in various public and private buildings throughout the state of California.

 “A laser-sharp understanding of the application of Silva Cells was critical in the process of specifying this underground bioretention technology as part of the Green Infrastructure solutions within the Civita Elementary School Project.  Our team collaborated with the manufacturers DeepRoot in terms of presenting the product information coupled with local projects to justify both cost and performance benefits to the DSA for review and approval. We are heading into the implementation phase of this project upon completing design and permit approval stages and looking forward to a smooth installation process.”
Todd Schechinger, Senior Project Manager and Devon Boutte, Project Manager

DeepRoot has collaborated successfully with Schmidt three times, underscoring that Silva Cells are able to adhere to DSA guidelines and secure the division’s approval. We are heading into the implementation phase of the Civita Elementary School project upon completing design and permit approval stages and looking forward to a smooth installation process with completion in Q1 2021. See project plans below:

Installation Summaries:

University City High School
Number of Silva Cells: 24 2X
Amount of soil volume: 677cubic feet
Amount of root barrier: 40 panels of UB-12
Number of trees and type: 2 trees-melaleuca linariifolis
Type of project: school, plaza, trees
Project designer: Schmidt Design Group
Project contractor: PCI Landscape
Installation date of Silva Cells: October 2019

Gompers Preparatory Academy
Number of Silva Cells: 78 2X, 13 1X
Amount of soil volume: 1,276 cubic feet
Amount of Root Barrier: 40 panels of UB-12
Number of trees and type: 4 trees- (2) Tipuana tipu and (2) Quercus virginiana
Type of project: school, plaza, trees
Project designer: Schmidt Design Group
Project contractor: Barnhart Reese Construction Inc. and Namvars Inc.
Installation date of Silva Cells: May and June 2020

Civita Elementary School
Number of Silva Cells: 24 2X, 138 1X
Amount of soil volume 4,185 cubic feet
Amount of Root Barrier 40 panels of UB-12
Number of trees and type: 12 trees- (6) Handroanthus impetiginosus and (6) Lagerstroemia x ‘Natchez’ trees
Type of project: school, plaza, trees
Project designer: Schmidt Design Group
Project contractor: C.W. Driver and Life Style Companies
Installation date of Silva Cells: TBD