Planting the Water for Green Learning Spaces

Do you have a favorite school, one that you attended, or where your children learn?  Do the outdoor areas provide a natural experience?  It seems that many school campuses around Albuquerque have unused spaces that could offer students outdoor opportunities. Other schools feature water-friendly green infrastructure with new facilities that are designed by professionals.

The swale near the Highland High Science Building in fall season

A few years ago, the Science teachers at Highland High School were happy to move into a new Science building, but there was no landscaping near the main entrance.  Gale Borkenhagen teaches the Advanced Environmental Science class, and she connected with other teachers who realized that the barren space was not going to pass.

Stormwater from the rooftop flows onto the site through two downspouts.  A retired teacher, Maura Montoya, dug a swale to slow and convey the water.  Overflow water was then conveyed into a nearby bare space through a pipe under a sidewalk.  Gale generated small grants from local funders, and bought a number of diverse trees.  Students have helped maintain the grove, with custodians adding water as needed.

Gale Borkenhagen visits the grove in winter.

The grove now becomes a mini-oasis in monsoon season, and it’s a textured, colorful space year-round.  Many of the trees provide shade on the building (saving energy) and an “encounter with nature” that people need for mental health and functioning.

Creative teachers nurture the love of nature throughout the public and charter school systems.  Teachers and students are building and growing edible gardens, and rain barrels or tanks can store rooftop rainwater for use in the dry months of the growing season.  There’s a lot of rooftops on school sites in New Mexico’s cities and towns .

Exploring an unused space at Valle Vista School

Observing the low and high, pervious and impervious areas.

Recently, two visitors explored a barren space with teacher Mike Goss at Valle Vista Elementary School.  Here is an opportunity site for a small grove that students can plant and love.

Currently, the water that flows off the nearby rooftop collects in the space with very compacted dirt, and slowly evaporates.  Instead, it could infiltrate into broken, loosened up, amended soil within earthworks (basins and swales), allowing new plant roots to uptake the water.

 Old and New Drainage Infrastructure

Highland High – drainage area at downspout on old building

Like many old school campuses, Highland High has a number of degraded outdoor spaces and stormwater problems near old buildings.

Look for new buildings that are built by the Albuquerque Public Schools; they may feature green infrastructure that was included in the design and budget for the building’s construction.

The newest building on the Highland High campus features connected basins on two sides of the building, with trees and bunch grasses planted near each basin (below).

Large basin with winter rain in front of new Highland High School building 

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