BWHS AP Environmental Science students create native habitat
By LENNY C. LEPOLA
News Assistant Managing Editor
A water intrusion study completed earlier this year identified problems with the high school gutter system and downspouts. Many were undersized. During very hard rain events water would come over the edge of the roof and not move away from the building, resulting in water in the high school basement and peeling paint on lower lever walls, especially noticeable in the stairwells.
During the April Big Walnut Local School District Board of Education meeting assistant district superintendent Gary Barber said the problem was exacerbated by grading at the back of the high school that prevented water from moving away from the building.
Barber said the entire high school gutter and downspout system needed be replaced, and water at the back of the building moved to bio-retention cells where it would be purified, drained to the hill behind the school, and enter the Big Walnut Watershed.
During their May meeting, board members approved a high school roof and gutter repair and water improvement program; $130,000 for the gutter system, $129,000 for grading and bio-retention cells to process roof runoff.
“The high school’s AP Environmental Science students will maintain the bio-retention cells,” Barber said at that May board meeting. “It’s a green approach, it’s a cost-effective solution, and it provides a curriculum alternative for our students.”
Over the summer months the high school gutter system was replaced, bio-retention cells were installed and downspouts at the back of the building’s roof were attached to subsurface conduit moving water to the cells.
Fast-forward to last Tuesday (November 6) when students in Matt Wallschlaeger’s AP Environmental Science class were landscaping the bio-retention cells as a community service and habitat improvement project.
“It’s a student-run project,” Wallschlaeger said. “They were given a budget, and they’re using all native Ohio plants, things that naturally grow in Ohio.”
To help students plan and install the bio-retention cell landscaping Wallschlaeger contacted Bob Harter, who is retired from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources and, in Wallschlaeger’s words, is totally into native plants.
While the students were planting stock, Harter named the plant varieties and explained their value to the mini-ecosystem the students were creating.
“The Red Twig Dogwood, a wetland species, is a shrubby Dogwood that puts out a dark purple berry, attracting bluebirds, late Robins, and any berry-eating bird,” Harter said. “The Orange Coneflower, that spreads by Rhizomes, attracts goldfinches that like the seeds; and a Purple Coneflower, because it’s highly fragrant, attracts goldfinches, butterflies and bees.”
Harter also noted that the students were planting Red Chokeberry, a shrub that puts out a red berry in the fall, and Big Bluestem Prairie Grass that can get six to eight feet tall.
Wallschlaeger said the students wanted to get something started in the fall to stabilize the soil, but additional plants will be installed in the spring. He also said sophomore Kyle Davis, who has an ongoing project tracking bird species around the high school, would make use of the project.
“Kyle will add more bird boxes because the plants will attract birds,” Wallschlaeger said. “This will create habitat for other critters as well; and the students will add a signage system for identifying plants so it’s useful for other classes.”
AP Environmental Science student Jesse Rines said the bio-retention cell project is interesting; and that even though it cost money it has the practical and lasting value of drawing water away from the high school building and using that water to create a natural habitat before directing it into the watershed.
“This project will eventually be beneficial to the high school,” Rines said. “It’s nice to find an environmentally sensitive and inexpensive solution to an expensive problem. Add to that the value of what we do in the classroom having value outside the classroom.”
Wallschlaeger said the bio-retention cell habitat is the first major outside conservation project his students have participated in other than Kyle Davis’ birdhouse project.
“Hopefully the students will think more about being involved in outdoor projects that enrich the quality of their surrounding area,” Wallschlaeger said. “We would like to get more students involved, keep this ongoing, and each year add to it.”