Three schools to get green stormwater makeovers

As the Philadelphia Water Department (PWD) looks ahead to the new year, one thing they will continue to work on is bringing stormwater management infrastructure to schools across the city. Over the next few years, PWD will work with Horatio B. Hacket School in Kensington, William McKinley School in Norris Square and William D. Kelley School in Brewerytown. At each of these schools, PWD will install green stormwater management features similar to those the department completed at the George Nebinger School in Queen Village this past fall. 

Citywide, schools represent two percent of the impervious surface in the city’s combined sewage drainage area. Because schools are highly visible and provide an opportunity to teach communities and young people about stormwater management, they are identified as an improvement area in the city’s Green City, Clean Waters plan. 

The Nebinger School case study

In 2011, with Green City, Clean Waters in mind, PWD began looking for its first school to partner with. Nebinger fit the bill. 

“It was just strictly a blacktop playground with this antiquated play equipment,” said neighborhood resident and Friends of Nebinger member Lisa French. 

Plus, the Community Design Collaborative had already looked at the Nebinger School and developed a master plan for the schoolyard through one of the collaborative’s green schoolyard charrettes. 

With a matching grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and collaboratin with Partnership for the Delaware Estuary and the School District of Philadelphia, PWD built a bioswale, rain garden, porous pavement and a belowground water retention basin. While many of the plants are now dormant, come spring, the full visual effect of the greening project will be evident.

In addition to the fact that the Nebinger project manages 1.86 acres of stormwater runoff, including runoff from some nearby streets, the project was significant because it was a first time the Water Department made such improvements at a school. 

Nebinger's schoolyard being depaved, July 2013
(Ashley Hahn, EOTS)

“We’re using this as a model moving forward,” said Joanne Dahme, general manager of public affairs at the Water Department.

Because the Nebinger project was the first in which PWD worked with the School District in this capacity, it helped to forge a critical relationship. 

“We have such a good relationship now,” PWD’s Stephanie Chiorean said. “Once we have protocols for everything it’s going to be a lot easier.” 

Three green schools

This is important as PWD begins working at Horatio B. Hacket School, William Mckinley School and William D. Kelley School. Each of these schools will be studied by participants in Community Design Collaborative charrettes, which will produce individualized green schoolyard masterplans. Once each masterplan is complete, PWD will get to work building the stormwater management components. PWD hopes to complete this work in 2015 or 2016. 

While PWD’s investments are limited to the stormwater management elements, the department sees its investments as a catalyst for others. 

Groups like the Friends of Nebinger agree.

“The Water Department can only do so much and only has so much money, so it’s kind of up to my group and other groups to finish it,” French said. So far Friends of Nebinger has come together to clear trash from the schoolyard, maintain other plantings and work on other improvements like added seating. 

PWD will continue to work with the Nebinger School, where the new Green City, Clean Waters curriculum is being tested. Once any kinks are ironed out, PWD will share that curriculum with its other school partners and make it available online. 

According to PWD staff, Nebinger will be the model going forward. It will be the school everyone wants to visit to see schoolyard stormwater management in action.

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