Using milk cartons, straws, construction paper and toilet paper rolls, third-graders at Boulder's Whittier Elementary came up with a 3D design for dense, affordable housing that's both sustainable and child-friendly.

They want a tree house, community gardens, a skate park, a courtyard with a fountain, solar panels, lots of bike and walking paths, a dog park, playgrounds and sustainable building materials.

"We all put our heads together and made this model for the community," said Whittier third-grader Ting Lester. "We thought about what kids would like and how to keep kids safe. We hade bike paths and a park because all kids love parks."

The Whittier students, along with students at Boulder High, are working with environmental design classes at the University of Colorado on a redevelopment plan for CU's family and graduate housing. Growing Up Boulder and the city also are part of the project.

"We want to show kids that their opinions are being heard and really matter," said Tori Derr, faculty coordinator at Growing Up Boulder and an environmental design senior instructor.

Growing Up Boulder and CU's environmental design classes worked on a similar project last school year with students at Boulder's Horizons K-8 and seniors at Frasier Meadows, creating designs to improve Admiral Burke Park.

At Whittier, students spent the fall semester working with Growing Up Boulder to develop their plans, learning about dense affordable housing and taking a field trip to a housing development before breaking into teams to work on topics like landscape, architecture and business development. Next, they wrote about their ideas, made models and gave presentations that were recorded and shared with the CU students.

"We did a bunch of research," said third-grader Parker Degnan.

Parker, who worked on transportation, said they came up with tunnels for cars to make the development safer for kids. They also suggested using crushed red rock with rubber underneath for bike paths because "if you fall on gravel, you can get really, really hurt."

The CU students, using the information from the Whittier and Boulder High classes, created initial design plans that they presented to the Whittier students on Wednesday. Later this month, the Boulder High students will visit CU to work with the CU students. With feedback from both groups, the CU students will finalize their plans, which are expected to be finished in April.

Redevelopment of family housing, along with the rest of CU's 52-acre site near Folsom Street and Arapahoe Avenue, is in the planning phase, with construction potentially starting in 2016. Boulder Creek runs through the site, which also includes athletic practice fields.

Environmental design professor David Kahn said the family housing buildings are aging, not environmentally friendly and don't have enough units. With the housing units so close to Boulder Creek, flood mitigation is another concern.

The goal is to create designs with more density with about 1,300 units, along with more open space and gathering spaces and limiting the need for kids to cross streets, he said.

"It's a refreshing thing to consult kids on the planning," he said. "It makes kids feel more a part of their environment."

On Wednesday, the Whittier students served as a focus group for the CU students, answering questions about what they most wanted to see in a design. Some students lobbied for a zipline or slide going directly into the creek; others decided it could be a safety issue. Another common theme was having multiple places to play, not just a single playground.

"We're leaving with so many more ideas than when we started," said CU environmental design junior Shane Powers. "Looking at the world through the eyes of these kids is so cool. They look at the world completely different than we do."

Contact Camera Staff Writer Amy Bounds at 303-473-1341 or boundsa@dailycamera.com.