Water Professionals Team With Fifth-Graders for Stormwater Project

Students at Skinner North Classical School in Chicago are solving a flooding issue on their playground using Lego bricks

Water Professionals Team With Fifth-Graders for Stormwater Project

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What began as a group of fifth-graders designing a rain garden with Lego bricks will now become a reality as water professionals transform a playground at a Chicago school.

Central States Water Environment Association (CSWEA) hosted a volunteer project for Skinner North Classical School May 14, bringing together water professionals from across Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota to solve a stormwater problem at the Chicago school. CSWEA conducted the project in conjunction with its annual meeting.

Sue Baert, CSWEA president, says she was excited about CSWEA’s opportunity to work with water stewards of the future. “In our industry we are constantly wanting to engage our youth through tours, experiments, educational materials — including WEF’s World Water Day — actually getting to be part of this wonderful adventure is awe-inspiring. How exciting to take an idea from our youth, create a plan, and implement it?”

The Skinner North Classical First Lego League Girls Lego Robotics Team initially designed the project in response to a flooding issue on their playground. The team proposed the idea while learning about stormwater and observing flooding on their own playground. “When our team first came up with the project idea, we wanted to make it a reality, but didn’t know how that would happen,” says one team member. “Working with Julia Bunn of Spirited Gardener, and Natalie Cook, a local wastewater engineer, was an amazing experience and they taught us so much along the way. They helped us see that even a kid’s idea can benefit the whole city of Chicago. Now our idea is a dream come true.”

As part of the new design, a rain garden will be installed to capture stormwater instead of it running into an overburdened stormwater system. The project will include backfilling the rain garden with gravel and topsoil to create underground water storage, and planting native species that can sustain growth with wet soil and uptake water.

Community partners have come together to make this rain garden a possibility. Design and plant selection were developed by Spirited Gardener. The excavation was done by the Chicago Department of Water Management. The Metropolitan Water Reclamation District (MWRD) of Greater Chicago is providing tools and equipment to help bring the project to reality.

“It’s critically important that we create the next generation of citizens committed to water conservation,” says Chicago Department of Water Management Commissioner Randy Conner. “That’s why I agreed to support this project which engages kids in learning about our water system.”

MWRD President Mariyana Spyropoulos says the district is thrilled to be a part of a student-driven initiative that serves multiple purposes. “We have partnered for many years with WEF, Chicago Public Schools and the Chicago Department of Water Management to construct gardens during WEFTEC, so this additional project is a wonderful extension of this partnership.”


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