More Than a Garden

New rain garden project part of groundbreaking partnership with City of Lynchburg

Rain Gardens“The overall impact of this project will enhance the landscape aesthetics around campus at no cost to us, but the most important thing is that it will help the environment.” Bobby Bennett Director of Buildings and Grounds

New rain gardens planned for Randolph College will do more than beautify the campus and reduce the College’s impact on the environment. The project, expected to be finished this summer, is being hailed as an example of how publicprivate partnerships might work on a larger scale across the City of Lynchburg in the future.

A committee of campus faculty, staff, students, alumnae, and trustees took part in the process to ensure the project would benefit the campus community.

The plan includes six rain gardens on campus, the disconnection of downspouts, the addition of rain barrels near the botanical garden, and the creation of a vegetated berm that will conceal existing mechanical equipment.

“The overall impact of this project will enhance the landscape aesthetics around campus at no cost to us, but the most important thing is that it will help the environment,” said Bobby Bennett, director of Buildings and Grounds.

Randolph College is partnering with the City of Lynchburg on the project, which is funded through federal stimulus money and is part of the city’s comprehensive Combined Sewer Overflow Program (CSO).

Lynchburg has one of the oldest sewer systems in the country, which in the oldest portions of the city was built as a combined sewer system—with single pipes carrying both sewage and stormwater. This combined system was designed to overflow to the nearest creek or stream during storm events, resulting in raw sewage in the city’s creeks and rivers.

Since the establishment of the Clean Water Act in 1972, the city has been working to upgrade this combined sewer system and eliminate sewage overflows. In 1993, the city signed a Special Order of Consent with the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality to implement a long-term control plan for the CSO system. Since then, the city has spent nearly $150 million on sewer upgrades and will likely spend an additional $350 million to complete the program.

Randolph College rooftopsRandolph College currently has 170,000 square feet of roof top area connected to the city’s combined sewer system. Currently, as was common practice in the past, the College’s gutters drain into downspouts.

The project will disconnect most of the downspouts, completing one of the largest single disconnections in the history of the Lynchburg Rainleader Disconnection Program, according to Jeff Scarano, CSO program manager for the City of Lynchburg.

“This project has created a great example of a public-private partnership between the city and the College that is environmentally responsible, is working towards solving the city’s CSO problem, and will add beauty and educational opportunities to the campus,” Scarano said.

Rain gardens are strategically placed, depressed areas designed to absorb runoff from downspouts, roofs, walkways, parking lots, and other areas. Without proper treatment, runoff can cause erosion and wash contaminates into the receiving water bodies.

Rain gardens are a way of handling the runoff in a way that mimics nature more closely than other traditional measures. Rain gardens absorb the runoff by providing a place for the stormwater to soak into the ground. The plants in the garden also absorb nutrients and contaminants in stormwater, reducing the pollution that reaches creeks, streams, and rivers. The gardens provide a useful service, but also create an attractive environment and habitat for birds and butterflies.

The rain gardens are planned for areas of campus that are currently either filled with mulch or are paved. City officials worked with the College’s committee to coordinate the rain garden project with the College’s Facilities Master Plan. The College also plans to install outdoor seating near the rain gardens to create additional outdoor social spaces on campus.

The College’s partnership with the City of Lynchburg helps both organizations make improvements to help the environment.

“These relationships are critical to the long-term health of the waterways, not only here but throughout the country,” said Keith Thompson, senior engineer and manager for CSO projects at Wiley-Wilson, a Lynchburg architectural and engineering firm. Thompson has worked extensively with other rain garden projects around the city.

“We all need to be good stewards of the environment, and this partnership is a shining example of how the government can work closely with local organizations to improve the environment in this area,” he said. “Right now, many of the bodies of water around Lynchburg are considered impaired. However, the city cannot improve them due to financial and legal restrictions. The water quality of the river and streams can only be improved through a cooperative effort between the government, residents, businesses and other organizations.”

Scarano applauded Randolph’s efforts to engage its community with the project. Scarano hopes to present the College’s partnership with the city and its efforts on this project at state and national conferences.

“I want to show other cities what opportunities have been realized due to stimulus funding and some out-of-thebox thinking by a private college,” he said.