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Permeable pavers key to award-winning stormwater projects

November 18, 2016
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The Stroud Water Research Center.

phb-lea-school-4Winning awards in your industry, especially when you beat the competition, is a lot of fun. Over the years, Pine Hall Brick has certainly won our share.

But when your product is part of a project that wins an award that honors efforts to clean up the environment, then that’s something of which to be genuinely proud.

In Philadelphia earlier this year, two projects—the Stroud Water Research Center and the Lea Elementary School—won inaugural awards from the Green Stormwater Infrastructure (GSI) Partners. The group represents an initiative within the Sustainable Business Network (SBN) of Greater Philadelphia.

Both projects used StormPave® genuine clay permeable pavers from Pine Hall Brick Company, installed in a best-practices installation.

(More about the awards are here: http://gsipartners.sbnphiladelphia.org/awards/)

The GSI Partners is a business group that was formed to support the success of Green City, Clean Waters, Philadelphia’s five-year effort to reduce stormwater runoff and combined sewer overflows by investing in green stormwater infrastructure. The group acts to ensure that the greenest approaches to stormwater management are used and that public and private investments are spent with local firms.

Telling the environmental story

Older cities mix stormwater runoff and septic sewer. As the cities expand, more pavement means more runoff; more people mean more sewage. Combining the two overtaxes sewage treatment plants that were designed for lower populations, causing overflows that pollute waterways.

Pine Hall Brick Company’s StormPave permeable pavers help by lowering stormwater volumes, directing rain water into the ground where it can be naturally filtered or used to irrigate rain gardens, instead of to storm drains. With less volume for a sewage treatment plant to treat, what remains can be treated more efficiently.

Since the Stroud Water Research Center has studied threats to fresh water for more than four decades, it was appropriate that its new facility follow environmentally sound best practices for handling stormwater. An award description says that rain gardens overflow to an infiltration trench that overflows to additional rain gardens and is eventually dispersed to a restored meadow and woodland. Overflow from the roof goes into cisterns for re-use, while paths are constructed of StormPave permeable pavers.

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Lea Elementary School hardscape. Photo used by permission of SALT Design Studio.

The Lea Elementary School was a larger project, because it managed stormwater from both the public street and the schoolyard, according to the award description. It involved planting 3,000 perennials, 35 shrubs and 19 trees – and effectively transformed a predominately paved schoolyard into a landscape with four-season appeal and 5500 square feet of StormPave® pavers.

Sara Pevaroff Schuh, RLA, ASLA, principal of SALT Design Studio, said Lea Elementary School followed the design pattern of many Philadelphia public schools: A large asphalt lot in the front, perhaps a basketball court and some play equipment.

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Lea Elementary School hardscape. Photo used by permission of SALT Design Studio.

Grant money was available to improve stormwater management in public schools and the West Philadelphia Coalition for Neighborhood Schools focused on Lea. A total of $232,000 was approved. The first priority in developing the design theme was to find out more about the community, in which a large number of immigrants, mostly from Africa, live and in which a total of 17 languages are spoken.

The theme, then, presented itself. How did you get here?

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Lea Elementary School hardscape. Photo used by permission of SALT Design Studio.

“The concept was to look at the journey of a person and the journey of a raindrop,” said Schuh. “We wanted to create a parallel between the two, to find ways that this schoolyard could be about that journey.  This schoolyard is to be a home base, a gathering place for people in the community, a place where they could be comfortable being there and not feel out of place. What does it mean to settle in a place and put down roots?”

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Lea Elementary School hardscape. Photo used by permission of SALT Design Studio.

In a sense, the outside of the school is an extension of the classroom, with the landscape becoming a teaching tool. And how they got there was through meetings with parents, students, school staff and neighbors. Volunteers planted many of the plants and help to maintain the schoolyard, which has effectively engaged the community and encouraged future investment in the project.

To us, that means that although the project itself won an award, the real winners are the people in the Lea Elementary School community. Now and in the decades to follow, we’re betting that they will continue to build a community in that schoolyard in Philadelphia.

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