City of Burlington Public School Rain Garden

This case study explores the implementation of a rain garden on public school grounds in the City of Burlington in 2018; the purpose of the rain garden was twofold 1. to serve as a solution to existing drainage problems on the school’s property, and 2. to serve as a hands-on educational tool for teachers and students. The rain garden was intended to be installed by the City’s hired contractors but maintained by students as part of an environmental education program delivered to Grade 5 and 6 students. The objectives of the project were threefold: improve the drainage conditions at a local school by constructing a raingarden on school property; educate and engage students/staff about sustainability, climate change and adaptation measures; and involve students/staff in construction and maintenance of garden as part of on-going outdoor education curriculum. The overall project was successful as there are many lessons learned that can be carried forward for other communities looking to develop similar partnerships in undertaking low impact development solutions to stormwater management.

Understanding and Assessing Impacts

This case study addresses the climatic risks and vulnerabilities related to extreme weather events, especially as related to extreme precipitation and urban flooding. In recent years, the City of Burlington has experienced multiple extreme weather events and has been impacted significantly by urban flooding. In both 2013 and 2014, the City was hit by torrential rainfall that resulted in severe flooding and damage to private property and public infrastructure. It was reported that the 2014 flooding damaged up to 10% of the City’s houses. These instances, although disastrous, spurred on multiple climate change adaptation projects across the City. The City has since undertaken a variety of community adaptation efforts such as ICLEI Canada’s Train the Trainer project. Participation in this project allowed the City to identify key vulnerabilities and risks facing the broader community. Building on this knowledge and growing partnerships with community members, the City has now embarked on more localized adaptation efforts such as the rain garden introduced as part of the Collaborative Implementation Group project.

Bruce T. Lindley Public School was selected for the pilot project, as it had experienced problems with drainage in the past. One area of the school’s soccer fields had been found to hold standing water and mud, causing health and safety risks to children, hygiene issues, loss of access to the property, and complaints from staff. The school also has an active outdoor environmental education program which is well-suited to the goal of the rain garden as both a practical and educational addition to the property.

Identifying Actions

Planning for the project was initiated in Spring of 2017. Once the school was selected, the project team at the City of Burlington met with the school board to present the project and conceptual design. Authorization for construction would be obtained by presenting concept drawings to the schoolboard for approval. To do this, the City contacted a rain garden designer. AVESI landscaping services were selected for the project due to their focus on low impact development (LID) projects. While drawings were under way, communication with the public school and school board were ongoing. The official proposal, drawings, and a quote for the rain garden were presented to the school board in late Spring of 2017. Design amendments and a legal agreement were finalized over the next year, and the construction of the garden was planned for and completed in the Fall of 2018. The City worked to develop the educational component of the project to have it ready for delivery prior to the raingarden construction. Green Venture, a Hamilton-based non-profit focused on environmental education and stormwater management was contacted and retained to provide the educational component of the project. While the educational program was designed for students in Grades 5 and 6, it was also arranged that teachers and students would visit the junior classes and transfer knowledge about the rain garden project in their own words. This way, the rain garden project extends through to younger children as well.

Implementation

Construction of the rain garden was completed in Spring 2018, in conjunction with the delivery of the classroom educational component from Green Venture. Students will have the opportunity to observe the installation of the rain garden while learning about storm water in their community. Costs: approximately $14,000 including consultation fees, construction materials, labour, staff time. Drought-tolerant plants were selected for the garden (Sparkleberry Turtlehead, Joe-pye Weed, Blue Flag Iris, Buttonbush, Pennsylvania Sedge).

Outcomes and Monitoring Progress

The project provides several benefits to Bruce T. Lindley Public School and the surrounding community. Key outcomes of this project include: creation of a template legal agreement that can now be implemented at other schools/school boards with relative ease; improving the drainage issue on the soccer field, leading to a better experience for students and staff; educating students about climate change, stormwater management, and garden/landscape maintenance; saving costs on maintenance through integration into school curriculum. Partnerships were foundational to the success of this project, with the primary project partner being Bruce T. Lindley Public School and the Halton District School Board. Support from the environmental coordinator at the school was particularly valuable in securing support for the initiative and advancing the educational component of the project. The second key partner in the project was AVESI, the Landscape Architect that specialized in low impact development (LID) installations. AVESI was able to provide drawings for approval from the schoolboard and state-of-the-art LID insights to ensure a sustainable rain garden for the school grounds. Green Venture was another key partner for the project, the non-profit has been instrumental in aligning the rain garden project with the students’ Grade 5 and 6 curricula.

Specific challenges involve the delay of the installation of the rain garden by approximately 8-9 months. Construction was originally planned for September/October 2017 but had to be postponed until Fall 2018 to accommodate additional time for the design and legal agreement to be reviewed, revised and approved by the school board, and align with seasonal constraints on vegetation planting periods. Some specific lessons learned include the importance of communicating roles and expectations to project partners from the beginning, acknowledge different values and perspectives, and recognize that challenges will arise and use those as opportunities to learn or enhance the partnership.

Indicators that will likely be used to measure the effectiveness of the rain garden and education program include: Process-based indicators such as the completion of the rain garden construction and integration of the educational component into Grade 5 and 6 curriculum, and Outcome-based indicators could be measured by reduction of standing water on the soccer field, improvement in students knowledge of stormwater management practices, and uptake of the project by other schools or facilities.

Next Steps

Next steps involve the continuation on the educational programming which is ongoing at Bruce T. Lindley Public School, as well as the ongoing monitoring and evaluation of the effectiveness of the rain garden in order to improve understanding and further green infrastructure project throughout Burlington. The project is featured on City of Burlington media challenges and the Take Action Burlington website.