Gateway to Sustainability


Forty years after Mawhinney Hall first opened its doors to students, the grounds surrounding the building have been reshaped into a large catch basin for rainwater. “The question we kept asking as we worked on this project was, ‘How do we retain storm water runoff while improving access to the building and making the site more aesthetically pleasing,’” said Sean Vormwald, the College’s Director of Sustainability and Environmental Health and Safety. The answer to Vormwald’s question turned out to be the Green Gateway and Living Lab project, a 12-acre redesign of the land around the west and south sides of Mawhinney Hall.

The view from above shows the rectangular planters which drain into a large bio-retention area.

The view from above shows the rectangular planters which drain into a large bio-retention area.

As soon as the final degree was handed out at May’s commencement ceremony demolition of the land around Mawhinney Hall began. Removed were traditional cement retaining walls, sidewalks and asphalt. They were replaced by permeable pavers and porous asphalt which allow storm water to pass through. A series of underground pipes transport the storm water to large rectangular planters and ultimately to bio-retention areas filled with native plants. “All of the basins and planters have a bio-retention soil which controls how fast the water is released,” said Kristin Clinch, OCC’s Project Manager at Mawhinney Hall. “The basins were over-excavated by two-and-a-half feet to get enough soil in them to hold the rainwater so it can absorb back into the ground.”

On both sides of of Ransom MacKenzie Drive there were also new drains installed to capture runoff from the road. Since the road itself is pitched to either side, the rainwater flows from the road, through the new structure and ultimately into bio-retention areas.

The goal of the entire project was to keep runoff out of Furnace Brook which runs through the middle of campus. “Storm water would pick up sediment and pollution which would have an adverse effect on the stream,” said Vormwald. “We wanted to eliminate that problem and minimize the amount of water going downstream.”

The project also includes a new sustainability feature inside Mawhinney Hall. The Rainwater Harvesting System collects water on the roof and transports it to the building’s basement where it is run through filters and stored in a 2,100 gallon tank. The water is used in the toilet flushing process which reduces the College’s carbon footprint by both shrinking the amount of water purchased and reducing how much water needs to be treated.

The Green Gateway and Living Lab project also includes a redesigned Centro bus stop on the west side of Mawhinney Hall. Improvements to the layout include a safer stop for riders as they wait for and get off the bus.

The project was funded through the NYS Environmental Facilities Corporation’s Green Innovation Grant Program. It was designed by Appel Osborne Landscape Architecture and Peterson Guadagnolo Consulting Engineers.

Below are a series of videos which compare the old technology and the new technology used in the Green Gateway and Living Lab Project. In this first video Vormwald shows how water is absorbed by the permeable pavers.

In the next video Vormwald shows how water is absorbed into the porous asphalt.

In this final video Vormwald pours water onto traditional asphalt.

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