Green Infrastructure project Improves WPU Campus life

October 14, 2020

Not all students get to see their internships evolve from general studies into full-time passion projects, but with the installation of a new rain garden on the northside of William Peace University’s campus, Billy Balton is witnessing exactly that kind of development. Balton, a recent Master of Landscape Architecture (MLA) graduate from NC State’s College of Design, has spent the past year working under the direction of John Cranham, WPU’s Associate Vice President for Buildings & Grounds, to evaluate and explore campus-wide landscape improvements and possible solutions.

“The overall goal of the internship was open ended,” said Balton. “John laid out a bunch of issues across campus from a landscape perspective and essentially wanted to see what improvements could be made.”

The internship was part of the recently developed graduate assistant program aimed at giving work experience to graduate students while completing their degree. WPU’s Senior Leadership team established the program to examine some of the University’s strategic projects and specifically, to supplement the master plan with designed enhancements to the landscape of the urban campus.

During the two-semester internship, Balton devised numerous proposals for campus improvements. He engaged with students, faculty and staff as a way to understand how they utilize campus spaces.

“I came up with loose design iterations of potential ideas to enhance the campus,” he said, adding, “more than what it is today.”

Balton’s work started to focus on the issues of water runoff mitigation and green infrastructure during a walk-through of campus following a particular rain event.

“We saw the flooding near the fields, and Cranham asked if I could solve this drainage issue,” Balton said. “It was then that I started to think about the idea of green infrastructure as a way to slow down runoff and be more responsible in how we treat stormwater.”

Balton was aware of the Raleigh Rainwater Rewards Program (RRRP) through his studies at NC State. The RRRP is a funding opportunity through the City of Raleigh to support projects that capture and clean rainwater before it enters storm drains and local waterways. The funding can provide up to 90 percent reimbursement for approved projects.

During the approval and consultation process required by the City, the idea of constructing a rain garden to address the issues was born.

The WPU rain garden is a landscape improvement that helps capture and slow down water in order to filter out some of its pollutants before it enters nearby Pigeon House Branch Creek. This being a green infrastructure improvement is important to Balton, as well as it being a useful design for the campus.

“Design isn’t subjective, it’s objective,” he said. “It’s a process, which includes the study and analysis of how people use and interact within a space and then figures out the most appropriate and best way to enhance it.”

As the project progresses, Balton hopes to visit and see the improvements. While he knows the rain garden will not fix all the runoff problems, he anticipates the impact of the rain garden will help absorb a meaningful amount of water that otherwise would go straight into the creek. He estimates that the completed installation will capture, absorb and filter roughly 50 percent of the runoff from the northern part of the campus. This is based on square footage of impervious surfaces, sidewalks and pathways and other factors.

“The implementation of the rain garden allows the University to contribute to the overall stormwater plan of the City of Raleigh, while increasing the beautification of the campus,” said Cranham. “These types of projects enhance the community sustainability while also opening another educational window to the environment for our students.”

“It is environmentally sound and good stewardship for all of us to consider,” Balton said, adding he hopes this project sparks more interest in green infrastructure and adds to the campus experience.

“If this project educates people, especially students, at a private institution in the capital of the state, then it is good for us all.”