Planning For A Rainy Day

The opportunities, however, were significant. Storm water was already surface-flowing over the site from the northwest to the southeast and from the east to the west, so demolition would be minimal, and runoff calculations were already defined.

The open space was heavily used by students and faculty, providing a perfect opportunity to create a functional, educational, and aesthetic site promoting interaction among building occupants and offering a focal point, a sense of place, and an amenity for the developing west campus.

The design team quickly established a goal of providing interaction points between the students and the plant materials, along with educational signage to emphasize the benefits of green storm-water management techniques.

About The Design

The team developed three preliminary concepts illustrating various sizes of rain gardens connected with bio-swales.

One option created a series of small rain gardens utilizing longer bio-swales; the second concept offered small rain gardens at the source of the runoff, with a bio-swale to a larger rain garden; and the last option created a rain garden near the source to slow the runoff and filter it to three larger rain gardens.

All of the concepts attempted to maximize surface-recharge to reduce the runoff reaching an existing detention basin south of the project site.

Even in the earliest preliminary-sketch stage, facilities-operations staff members were involved with the design concepts in order to better understand the project goals and benefits.

One of the main concerns for staff involved a complete change in maintenance practices from the current procedures. There had to be an assurance that maintenance could manage the completed landscape without extensive hand-weeding and watering.

The overall look of the project, once completed, is not only the responsibility of the facilities maintenance staff, but also a direct reflection of their work efforts. If there are complaints, the staff will be the first to hear them. The design team understood and appreciated the staff’s perspective and listened carefully to its concerns.

The design-development plan featured six locations where pedestrians would either cross the rain garden and bio-swales or have opportunities for resting near the plantings and rain gardens. The rest areas became ideal locations for educational signage offering an up-close look at the plants, native stone, and insects in the swales and basins.

The design plan

The team hoped that winged visitors from the nearby Monarch Watch Butterfly Conservation Garden would be frequent guests in the native-plant massings.

These rest areas did not survive the conceptual phase, however. The funds allocated for the project were only authorized to improve storm-water quality and quantity; the human experience within the projects was not a consideration. The design team removed these elements prior to completion of the construction documents to ensure the security of the funding.

The university does intend to provide benches, educational signage, and trash receptacles when additional monies become available.

The university maintenance staff completed the extensive native plantings this past spring; however, the climate in the summer was not favorable as the region experienced extreme heat and drought. It is too early in the process to know which plants survived and which will need to be replaced.

In spite of the stressed plantings, the project is aesthetically pleasing, and the rain gardens and swales successfully store and carry the water across the site. Ten percent of the nearly 10-acre watershed will be retained on-site during a two-year storm event, and the rain gardens provide 9,450 square feet of storage capacity at a depth of 12 inches.

About The Lessons

During construction, a few issues arose requiring the design team’s attention. The most visible of those issues involved the storm-drainage pipe installed under the sidewalks in two locations. The headwalls in each location should have been more specifically detailed to ensure complete aesthetic control and stability. The team made an on-site visit to review and ensure that the stacked stone used would be acceptable.

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