Greener school, cleaner bay

Burleigh Manor Middle pupils create a runoff-management system

October 15, 2006|By Karen Nitkin | Karen Nitkin,Special to the Sun

Even with his arm in a sling, 13-year-old Raymond Brodsky was determined to help his Burleigh Manor Middle School classmates plant flowers and trees.

"I'm determined to keep going," said Raymond, an eighth-grader who said he separated his right shoulder and damaged muscles while playing football. "It's really important to save the bay and the animals."

The vegetation being planted last week by Burleigh Manor pupils was specially chosen to cleanse water as it runs from the parking lot toward Centennial Lake.

The project began more than a year ago, when the county conducted a study of water that drains to Centennial Lake, said Mark Richmond of the storm water management division with the county's Department of Public Works.

"Several of the sites on our property list were at the schools," he said. Officials saw an opportunity to protect the lake and get children involved at the same time, he said. "Part of what we like to do is public education," he said.

Richmond approached officials at the schools, explaining how bioretention areas planted with filtering vegetation could keep pollution and sediment from running into the lake. "They were all interested," he said.

Centennial and Wilde Lake high schools are doing similar projects, he said. The project at Wilde Lake will filter water running toward Wilde Lake.

At Burleigh Manor, pupils worked on the design for the water-cleansing area last spring. One major goal was to give the children control over the project, so they would feel pride in the outcome, said Kathleen Tunney, the seventh-grade science teacher who worked with the pupils last school year.

With that in mind, pupils were given a list of trees and plants that are native to the area and would serve as filters for dirty water as it leaves the parking lot.

"We went to the computer and went on Web sites to see what plant would be best for what seasons and what months," said Victoria Michel, 13. "I know I recommended lots of flowers. I don't remember all the names, but I recommended lots of trees and black-eyed Susans."

The pupils chose black-eyed Susans, red maples, blue irises, switch grasses and river birch for the site, which is about 150 feet long by 50 feet wide.

"The plants they chose represent aesthetic value throughout the seasons," said Jim Fetchu, landscape architect with Charles P. Johnson and Associates, which has been involved with the project, along with landscape contractor Environmental Quality Resources, which supplied the plants and donated materials.

"We had to know which plants worked together in which weather," said Vin Giuliana, 13.

The site also has a half-dozen monitoring wells, so students can see whether the sand and soil is draining as it should.

"The idea is not for them to go out to plant today and leave it alone," Richmond said, but for pupils to maintain the site.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, pupils planted. About 400 seventh- and eighth-graders participated, Tunney said.

"It's so wonderful to see what they accomplished," Tunney said Tuesday after the trees had been planted and as pupils were adding plants and grasses. "The kids have been unbelievable."

The land was merely a slope covered with grass before, she said, with a single drain for runoff.

In the future, it will pick up trash and filter out pollutants, Richmond said. And it will increase environmental awareness among pupils, he said.

"The higher impact is we're getting kids involved," Richmond said.

Marvin Gentry, 14, taking a break from planting black-eyed Susans, said the planting is important. "The roots will stop most of the waste from going down to Centennial Lake and the bay," he said.

"Last week, this was all dirt," said Christian Owen, 14.

"We've gotten a lot done," said Meghan McNeil, 13, who had been planting black-eyed Susans. Meghan, like other pupils involved in the project, realized it represented much more than an afternoon in the sunshine.

"The reason we're putting this stuff here is to keep erosion from occurring. But we want it to look good at the same time," she said.

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