It’s no secret that Inskip Elementary School is getting a much-needed expansion and renovation this year. Sometime this spring, construction crews will break ground on a fix that will eliminate portable buildings at the North Knoxville school.
But it’s not as well known that a synergy between the school board and Knox County’s Stormwater Department is getting the school a state-of-the-art stormwater system that may set best practices systemwide.
The project is spearheaded by school board member Tony Norman, who also works at Knox County Stormwater.
At Inskip, instead of runoff from the roof and pavement feeding into underground pipes and a huge detention pond, it will instead flow into what Norman called “rain gardens,” several bioretention cells that include rock, soil and attractive vegetation to help filter and slow down rainwater so it can naturally “perc” back into the ground.
“When you do that, you are recharging groundwater systems instead of taking water and flushing it off the surface and sending it wherever the nearest tributary is,” said Norman. “That’s the reason why all our urban creeks and streams are so scoured out. They end up being just grand ditches because they’re overwhelmed with these volumes of water.”
There will be one rain garden in front of the building and a larger one along the building’s south side. There will still be a detention pond, but the new design will allow it to be much smaller and shallower that a traditional detention pond.
Proposed plants for the rain gardens include “water-loving” varieties, including magnolia, cornflower and black-eyed Susan.
“It should be very attractive, especially if you compare it to a hole in the ground,” said Norman. “Right now, what disturbs me is that they’ve just finished Pond Gap. It’s a beautiful building, but it’s got a big hole in the ground right in the corner. That could have been much smaller and much less obtrusive.”
Norman said he’s working to get this method of stormwater management added to Knox County Schools’ program standards so that it is included in the bid process going forward.
“It’s a new way of thinking about water for the school system,” he said. “This is what we try to get developers to do with commercial and residential properties all over town. it’s a new way to do development, and it’s worth thinking about and making an attempt.”
Cost for the project will be cut by yet another synergy: Knox County Stormwater’s relationship with CAC Americorps. Norman said Americorps volunteers will handle the plantings.
So, how does all this tie into education? Norman said environmental education is important to him as a former environmental science teacher. The rain gardens will double as outdoor classrooms, places where teachers can build on important science topics. He’s even gathering resources to help Inskip teachers incorporate the rain gardens into their lesson plans.
“It’s great to get kids outside and understand and see how things work with water in the area in which we live,” he said. “Here we are in this incredible area ecologically, and to get kids out and get them into that mindset that hey, you need to take care of water, there’s just a ton of things that kids can do.”