Students embark on effort to renovate campus rain garden

Students in the Youngstown Environmental Sustainability Society have launched an effort to renovate the rain garden on the campus of Youngstown State University.

The rain garden, located adjacent to Coffelt Hall on University Plaza on campus, was constructed several years ago to decrease storm water runoff into the sewer system, said Curtis Burns, a YSU student and a member of YESS. Burns said storm water runoff from parking lots contains a variety of pollutants, including oil, gasoline, brake fluid, antifreeze, metals and sediment.

“These pollutants get transported into the sewer system during rain events and eventually into the Mahoning river without being treated,” he said.

The project, expected to take two semesters to complete, is a joint effort of the departments of Geology and Environmental Sciences and Civil and Construction Engineering Technology with the leadership of associate professors Felicia Armstrong, Colleen McLean and Robert Korenic.

The rain garden consists of two bio-swells and the actual garden. The bio-swells should hold the rain water and allow it to slowly drain into the rain garden, allowing pollutants to settle out of the water where they are taken up by the plants and bio-remediated, Burns said.

The problem is that drains in the bio-swells are positioned too low and, as a result, drain the storm water directly into the garden, causing erosion and making it impossible for plants to thrive.

“The plan is to raise the drains to allow the storm water to slowly permeate into the ground, while the rocks in the garden protect the soil and plants from erosion and give the plant's roots a secure place to grow without drying out,” Burns said.

Students are adding rocks to decrease erosion, improve storm water retention and infiltration.

They also are raising the drains in the bio-swells to decrease the water velocity draining into the rain garden, and they are clearing weeds and planting native plants. The project also involves increasing the size of the exterior soil berms so that water entering the garden does not flow over the sides and into the street’s sewers.