The College of Engineering is helping local PK-12 students go green, but the effort goes beyond recycling and flipping off light switches. The college's Center for Sustainable Urban Engineering is partnering with the Civic Garden Center near UC's Uptown Campus to create the Green Learning Station, an experiment in self-sustainable, green urban living.
The primary feature of the site, which sits in the place of an old gas station, is a "green roof" covered with a few inches of soil and drought-resistant plants that will absorb excess rain water that would otherwise end up in the storm sewer. Runoff water will be collected and sent through an on-site water treatment system, providing fluid for the toilet and shower. Solar panels and a wind turbine will generate the building's electricity.
Data collected at the learning station will be linked to a Web site where elementary students can check water quality, temperature and a live video feed via an on-site Web cam. An entire curriculum about sustainability will be available to teachers on the site, complete with possible field trips to the learning station for students to experience the project up close and personal.
"The students will be able to smell it, touch it, actually experience it and have some classes on the site, which will have classroom space inside," says Dan Oerther, director of the Center for Sustainable Urban Engineering and head of UC's civil and environmental engineering department. "Kids need to be exposed to nature if they're going to become better environmental stewards as adults."
Vickie Ciotti, director of the Civic Garden Center, says partnering with UC helped make the research component possible, which will provide the basis for the elementary curriculum and turn the station into a "living project." "We really wanted to be cutting edge and on top of the emerging green technology, and who better to help us with that than UC," Ciotti says. "I think the data we're going to be able to get from this being an urban area is really invaluable."