Big Walnut High School Science Teacher Matt Wallschlaeger and Ohio Department of Natural Resources retiree Bob Harter were recognized during a December 5 Delaware County General Health District meeting. Wallschlaeger and Harter received a Keep Delaware County Beautiful Going Green Award, but Wallschlaeger said the award really belongs to last year’s group of AP Environmental Science students.
To backtrack a bit, a water intrusion study completed early in 2012 identified problems with the high school gutter system and downspouts. Many were undersized, and during 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 then 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 plan was for the high school’s AP Environmental Science students to maintain the bio-retention cells, Barber said at that May board meeting. He called it a green approach, a cost-effective solution that also provides a curriculum alternative for students.
Over the 2012 summer months the high school gutter system was replaced, bio-retention cells were installed and downspouts at the back of the building’s roof attached to subsurface conduit moving water to the cells.
Fast-forward to November of 2012 when Wallschlaeger’s AP Environmental Science students landscaped the bio-retention cells as a community service and habitat improvement project.
“It’s a student-run project,” Wallschlaeger said at the time. “They were given a budget, and they used all native Ohio plants, things that naturally grow in Ohio.”
To help students plan and install the bio-retention cell landscaping Wallschlaeger contacted Harter, who is, in Wallschlaeger’s words, 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 - Red Twig Dogwood, a wetland species, a shrubby Dogwood that puts out a dark purple berry, attracting bluebirds, late robins, and any berry-eating bird; 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 planted 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 start planting in the fall to stabilize the soil, with additional plants 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
“We got this award because of what these students did last year,” Wallschlaeger said. “This is just the beginning. We’ll be able to continue this project with our next class of AP Environmental Science students this spring when we plant the other bio retention pond and work on some signage for the individual plants.”
Wallschlaeger also noted that Harter started the native plants in his personal greenhouse; that he provides them for student use for a nominal charge.
Wallschlaeger called the project an environmentally sensitive and inexpensive solution to what could have been a much more expensive problem. He also noted that 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.”