Friday, June 26, 2009

GA Tech Plan Keeps Green Space, Water Conservation Efforts Moving Forward

Although Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue announced on June 10 the state drought was over, Georgia Tech will continue its path of conservation, both by continuing landscaping projects to increase the Institute’s green space and expanding upon new water conservation and reclamation methods.

These projects ”the Clough Undergraduate Learning Commons (CULC), the Challenge Course, the Marcus Nanotechnology Building, the Old Civil Engineering building and Tech’s Eco-Commons” fall under the Institute’s Landscape Master Plan.

Proposed in 2004 and established in 2006, Tech’s Plan goes beyond that of most universities and organizations, striving to develop “an integrated, ecologically based landscape and open space system that helps Tech achieve its goal of environmental sustainability; a landscape that enhances the living, working and learning environment; and a landscape that unifies the campus and gives it a distinct sense of place.”

Specific goals include reclaiming impervious surfaces ”parking lots and paved areas” for green space and establishing the goal of 55 percent tree canopy and 22 percent woodlands coverage around the campus.

“It’s a very unique feature,” said Landscape Architect and Master Planner Anne Boykin-Smith. “Most campuses cite their outdoor furniture ”benches, accessories, that sort of thing. Ours explains how we treat the soil in different zones of campus before we plant, and what plants are preferred.”

In addition to separating the campus into zones, Boykin-Smith says the plan defines campus “design corridors,” to establish a consistent style among streetscapes throughout campus. The document also aids with Landscape Services in Facilities to maintain what has been planned, planted and built. The Campus Tree Care Plan, required to be named a Tree Campus USA (for which Tech was nationally recognized in 2008), was established as a collaborative effort between Facilities and Campus Planning & Space Management.

During the planning process in 2004 for the Campus Master Plan, CPSM hired landscape architect and Institute consultant Rob Fisher of Robinson Fisher Associates of Athens, Georgia to craft the Landscape Master Plan. Now in its third year, the plan will be updated in the coming months to include lessons learned and other long-range project opportunities.

“We’re really just cutting our teeth on it,” she said. “Many projects ”[landscaping at] Klaus, Old CE and others” were well under way when we started the Plan. The CULC is one of the first buildings [started] under the plan.”

During the nearly two-year drought, Tech has continues to move toward more sustainable solutions for irrigation, such as using cisterns for capturing rain water and air-conditioning condensate, as well as using an underground aquifer for watering the stadium. With the plan, Boykin-Smith and CPSM Director Howard Wertheimer are taking a more strategic look at cistern locations around campus, both above and below ground.

“During the drought, Georgia Tech developed and implemented numerous campus-wide water conservation strategies to reduce our reliance on potable water,” Wertheimer said. “As such, we will continue on our existing course of water conservation, while looking for even greater opportunities to develop new water conservation strategies.

"One such strategy is the development and implementation of a Geographic Information Systems “based Cistern Master Plan where we will systematically capture rainwater and building condensation to meet our landscape irrigation needs and for campus water features, combined with computerized irrigation water management systems that control and monitor real-time environmental conditions such as flows, daily weather and soil moisture content.”

The current campus approach places cisterns near buildings as they are constructed or renovated. Boykin-Smith says that the strategic plan, utilizing the College of Architecture’s Center for Geographic Information Systems (CGIS) mapping technology, will place cisterns more regionally, rather than within the limits of a typical building project. Cisterns placed near CULC, for instance, will help water more than just the building-specific landscaping.

“The ultimate goal is to fully eliminate the Institute’s use of potable water to manage our irrigation needs,” Wertheimer said.

Current projects

Landscaping for the Old Civil Engineering Building and the Marcus Nanotechnology Building, as well as the Atlantic Drive Promenade streetscape, has been completed. On West Campus, work has been completed on Alumni Park, allowing for better use of the two sand volleyball courts. “We solved the drainage problems and made it larger,” Boykin-Smith said.

While utility work is ongoing for the planned CULC, CPSM is currently working with Facilities on the building’s planned hardscaping, (paving and walkway surfaces).

Construction continues on the Institute’s Challenge Course, with a completion anticipated in early August.

A cantilevered concrete deck is being constructed behind the Molecular Science and Engineering building, overlooking the proposed Institute Eco-Commons. Expected completion is late July.

Upcoming projects

Tech’s Eco-Commons is a storm-water management and green space reclamation project, with the primary basin stretching from Couch Park to the President’s Glade. A prominent water feature near the overlook at the Molecular Science and Engineering building and a network of shade trees will help manage the storm water runoff better. “Water that goes into cisterns or into trees doesn’t go into pipes,” Boykin-Smith said. In addition to providing storm water management and a wooded area for campus, a main affect of the Eco-Commons is to reduce Tech’s contribution to the city’s combined sewer system, thereby reducing the quantity of water that must be chemically treated.

Tech Green, the open area west of the CULC, will be graded into more of an open-field space, Boykin-Smith said. The Current Campus Master Plan identifies a frontal addition to the Van Leer building, which will eventually form a steps-and-stage area at the northern end of Tech Green.

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