In 1915, Binford Middle School became just the fifth junior high school to open in the United States. Over a century later, the school is continuing to make historic strides as a new green infrastructure project has transformed the Richmond school into one of the most environmentally innovative campuses in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.
The project, funded by a Chesapeake Bay Program Small Watershed Grant, is the result of a three year collaboration between Binford Middle School and the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay to transform the historic school into a more watershed-friendly campus. Throughout the process, the partners discussed implementing a variety of stormwater best management practices (BMPs) that would improve the school’s green infrastructure.
In the spring of 2018, Meredeth Dash of the Alliance voiced an idea for a rainwater harvesting system that could double as a piece of public art. The harvesting system would capture stormwater runoff and put it to use by directing it into the school’s rain garden.
After careful consideration, planning and coordinating with teachers and local artists, the project was set in motion. Students even got involved. They were given the chance to participate in a contest to help design the rain sculpture.
“We wanted to engage students meaningfully throughout the entire process,” said Dash. “Then local artists Matt Lively and Tim Harper used the winning submission as the inspiration for the final sculpture.”
By the time students returned to school in the fall of 2018, the rain-harvesting sculpture had been installed in front of the school, along with permeable pavement, conservation landscaping and rooftop disconnections that directed water towards the new permeable surface.
“The sculpture is a perfect blend of environmental science, art and education,” said Dash. “The kids get to walk by it every day on their way into school. A lot of them are excited by the project. They really believe in it.”
The rain sculpture is as effective as it is stunning. A network of troughs capture, clean and filter rainwater as it is diverted from the roof. As the basins slowly drain, they distribute water throughout a rain garden full of native plants. The system prevents stormwater runoff from ending up on impermeable surfaces such as roads and sidewalks, where it can carry harmful pollutants into nearby waterways.
In addition to being a beautiful addition to the campus, the sculpture’s cloud-inspired design helps students develop a visual understanding of how rainwater directly impacts the environment. “Art is a great way to make science accessible to kids,” said Dash. “Students can get outside the classroom and experience a meaningful, hands-on environmental education.”
In the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement, the Chesapeake Bay Program set a goal to increase the number of schools in the region that reduce the impact of their buildings and grounds on their local watershed, environment and human health through best practices, including student-led protection and restoration projects.
“Our hope is that the sculpture continues to inspire students to be environmentally active in their community,” said Dash. “We want to show these kids that they are the next generation of environmental stewards.”
Learn how you can create a green project at your school on Bay Backpack, our resource for educators.