Beth Cavanaugh 301-405-4625
By Sara Gavin
A parking garage seems an unlikely source of inspiration. But for a diverse group of University of Maryland students, the garage next to Byrd Stadium proved a perfect place to combine creative thinking, artistic design, sustainable practices and historic preservation.
Six UMD students with various backgrounds and interests, including landscape architecture, civil engineering, sustainable development, conservation biology and public policy, teamed up to create a project proposal for the EPA Campus Rainworks Challenge. The national competition invites undergraduate and graduate student teams to create innovative green infrastructure designs for sites on their campuses that demonstrate how managing stormwater at its source can benefit the community and environment.
After meeting with several different departments on campus, surveying multiple sites and conferring with faculty advisors, the team ultimately chose an area next to the stadium parking garage as the focus for their project, in part because of its high visibility and traffic on campus. In developing their design, team members interviewed students walking by the garage to find out what they would want to see there. "After all, they're going to be the clients who will be using the site," says Wenjie Li, a graduate student pursuing her master's degree in landscape architecture.
This interdisciplinary team of Terps met at least once a week throughout an entire semester to come up with a design that would not only treat runoff from the stadium garage, but beautify the space and make it a multifunctional outdoor recreational and educational facility.
The design the team came up with includes stepped rain gardens utilizing plants native to Maryland that would help absorb and clean rainwater runoff from the garage, as well as a cistern that would store water underground to be used for irrigation by the UMD Arboretum Outreach Center.
"Our design really does a good job of cleaning water in a visible way where people can actually see what's happening and where the water is going," says Ian Peterson, who will graduate this spring with a master's degree in civil engineering.
The concept also includes tables, chairs, benches, as well as a stone walking path. "We're very pleased about our design," says Li. "It's not only functional but artful and also has a historical element."
That historical link is a small fenced-in area near the garage that contains the McNamee family cemetery. The McNamees leased and then eventually sold land to the then Maryland Agricultural College in the early 1900s, stipulating that the cemetery would remain on campus following the sale. Instead of shying away from the site because of this unique obstacle, the team of Terps rose to the challenge and came up with a design that would help direct water away from the graveyard.
The group submitted its design to the EPA Rainworks Challenge in mid-December and will find out in April whether it bested hundreds of other entries. Winning student teams will earn a cash prize of $2,500 as well as $11,000 in funds for their faculty advisor to conduct research on green infrastructure.
While members of the team are confident in their design and their chances of winning the EPA competition, they're also looking at other ways to make the stadium parking garage project become a reality. The team was invited by the Clinton Global Initiative to make a presentation in early April for a chance at securing funding, and may apply for a grant from the university's Office of Sustainability – all to ensure future generations of Terps can benefit from their vision and hard work.