Group fundraises to save stormwater, Cynwyd Station

How do you keep water out of an almost 125-year-old train station’s basement? And how do you do so with almost no money?

The Lower Merion Historical Society, under the guidance of green consultant Sarah Francis, is working to answer both questions with a new stormwater harvesting system and a kickstarter fundraising campaign. 

In 2008, the Historical Society began working to overhaul Cynwyd Station, originally built by the Pennsylvania Railroad in 1890. Though SEPTA stops at Cynwyd Station, the building itself had gone unused for years. In a now five-year process, the Historical Society has worked to lease the property from SEPTA and complete a historic renovation of the structure. 

Water wars

With most of the renovations complete, the Historical Society is now dealing with a problem Francis saw coming all along – the building’s wet basement. 

The station’s basement is continually wet and could threaten the foundation, Francis said. To get to the source of the problem, she brought in students from Villanova University who looked at the site’s hydrology. The students found that most of the water in the basement is actually coming from the roof. Downspouts direct the water off of the roof, but most of it stays close to the foundation. 

As a pro-bono gift to the Historical Society, North Street Design, LLC offered to design a solution – a multifunctional tank that collects storm water from the roof, serves as outdoor seating and feeds stormwater planters. The combo bench, stormwater tank and rainwater planters that the firm designed will sit at the outer edge of the building’s footprint, just above the platform of SEPTA’s Cynwyd stop. 

Francis said the design is unique in that it fits the overall aesthetic of the historic station and offers seating, which makes it more functional than many of the more common stormwater collection systems.

“This [will show] people there are other ideas out there for rain water harvesting,” she said. “It can be beautiful.”

According to Francis, part of what drew North Street Design to the project was the Historical Society’s goal of using the stormwater system as a demonstration site for rain garden workshops and using the station building as a space for community learning and collaboration.

Kickstarting the project

Though North Street Design has offered to design and install the stormwater harvesting system, the Historical Society needs to come up with funding for supply costs. That’s where Francis turned to Kickstarter, the popular online fundraising platform. 

On behalf of the Historical Society and this project, Francis is working to raise $5,000. She has just over a month to do so and is offering incentives based on donation levels. Incentives range from a free historic tour of the station and nearby Cynwyd Heritage Trail to free rain garden workshops and lifetime membership to the Historical Society. 

“This is something we can’t buy off the shelf,” she said. “This is something that has to be designed custom.”

Once the funds are in place and SEPTA and the township have given their final approval, North Street Design will install the system, which could take as little as two or three days to put in. If all goes well, installation will be complete early this spring. 

Ending at the beginning

Cynwyd Station is at the end of SEPTA’s Cynwyd regional rail line, but it is the beginning of the Cynwyd Heritage Trail, the bike and walking path that runs along retired rail lines from the station to the Schuylkill River. The trail then feeds into the Manayunk Bridge, which is being overhauled to include a pedestrian and bike path that will connect the Cynwyd Heritage Trail to Manayunk and the Schuylkill River Trail.

When the station is complete, it will serve as the Cynwyd Heritage Trail’s only trailhead and offer bathrooms and, likely, refreshments to trail goers. 

“What’s cool about this [stormwater] project is there’s a bunch of different projects coalescing in this one spot,” Francis said referring to the trail, station’s historic renovation and ongoing development in the surrounding neighborhood. 

After years of working on the Cynwyd Station and completing many phases that were behind the scenes, including getting through various red-tape, Francis said she is happy to be nearing the end of the renovation and to be working on a project that will be visible by and available to the public so soon.  

“It’s been a long journey,” Francis said. “We’re going into our fifth year with the Cynwyd Station…The fact that we’re at the point where we’re actually installing things is the culmination of years of work.”

To donate to the stormwater-harvesting project or learn more, visit the project’s Kickstarter page

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