Roberts’ Campus Transforming Into Environmental Showcase With Help from Mill Creek Watershed Council and EPA
2014 - Diverting 1.8 million gallons of storm water from flooding into the sewer system every year is the goal of an ambitious $450,000 project on Roberts Paideia Academy’s campus on Grand Avenue in Cincinnati’s Price Hill neighborhood.
Landscaping, rain gardens, bio-infiltration swales and plants will slow the rainwater runoff from adjacent parking lots and filter out some heavy metals and contaminants before the water hits the storm water system and, ultimately, the environmentally sensitive Mill Creek.
Among the payoffs for the students, families, staff and neighbors of the hilltop school will be showy flower gardens, a walking trail, landscaping designed to divert and slow rainwater runoff, and a host of creative educational opportunities.
The most obvious improvement to the school’s front yard may be the makeover for “the Pit,” a deep, fenced-in drainage ditch along Grand Avenue (pictured below, right photo). By spring, it will be surrounded by sedge meadows (perennial grasses growing in saturated wetlands) and mesic prairie full of wildflowers.
It still will fulfill its critical mission to collect and hold rainwater runoff from the school’s nearly 14 acres and the surrounding community. It will just look better. The creation of rain gardens and the plantings around the school will improve aesthetics as well as the habitat for birds and insects, including butterflies.
The $450,000 project is funded by the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) - $198,886 - as well as by matching grants and the project’s partners.
The project is a win-win for the students, the city and the Mill Creek, according to Jennifer Eismeier, executive director of the Mill Creek Watershed Council of Communities (pictured right), which works to restore and protect watershed quality by planning and implementing projects among the 37 cities, townships and communities in the Mill Creek’s 166-square-mile drainage area.
She helped secure the funding from the Ohio EPA, coordinate matching grants, and collaborate with the partners, including the Metropolitan Sewer District.
“Cincinnati Public Schools has been a fantastic partner, really open to alternate ways to collect storm water and also being open to potentially collecting off-site storm water. And, in an urban area, that kind of cooperation is imperative,” Eismeier said. “We have some pretty significant storm water challenges.”
Work began at Roberts in October 2014, with earth-moving machinery grading the hillside, and access sidewalks and steps going in. (photo below, left)
“I’m very excited to be working with the students. What we’d like to do is have at least one planting day, and the students will help,” Eismeier said.
CPS will take over watering and maintenance of the plantings as they become established into next summer.
Lessons students and the community will take from the Roberts’ project:
• How do watersheds work?
• What are we doing here with storm water?
• What about habitats? What kind of new wildlife will we be seeing?
• What kind of new plant life will appear?
It’ll be a nature field trip – on site.
Transforming a rolling hillside in Price Hill into a natural water filtration system is just one part of the plan to surround the students of Roberts Paideia Academy with thriving gardens, wetlands and natural beauty.
Part two is an environmental windfall for the community. And the biggest bonanza is hands-on educational opportunities right outside the door for Roberts’ 700 students in preschool through 8th grade.
First-graders will learn to identify specific flowers and begin to understand how soil, sun and water make plants grow. Eighth-graders will research what plants will thrive on the school’s campus and the critical role of the Mill Creek watershed.
"Teachers are making connections beyond what we had dreamed of," Roberts Principal Vera Brooks said.
Brooks rattled off learning opportunities linked to science and social studies curriculum across all grade levels:
• What plants will help the community;
• The impact of torrents of rainwater flooding into the sewer system;
• How to improve and protect the environment; and
• The cycle of life for plants and wildlife — from woolly worms to butterflies.
“It takes the classroom experience into the real life experience,” Brooks said.
The re-engineering landscaping and water-drainage improvements will benefit the whole area. “It’s all part of their community,” Brooks said.
Teachers, who have been part of the project’s planning process, will walk students through rain gardens and past the wetland to tie in classroom lessons with what the children can see, touch and experience outside. Educational signage will guide students and visitors along the walking trail.
The gardens will be an explosion of color and showy – but hardy – flowers that can withstand heavy rain as well as dry periods, said Eismeier. Viburnum, goldenrod, coneflower, and big bluestem will be planted, along with other shrubs, to slow water runoff, provide beauty, and attract birds and butterflies.