Staff at Kingswood Magnet Elementary School in Cary struggled for years with erosion on the property, trying to get grass to grow. But the problem was worse than they imagined. With every storm, dirt from the school’s playground was washing into nearby Black Creek, polluting the urban stream.
“I had no idea that we had any contributing factors to the Black Creek. I didn’t think too much about creeks and rivers in general,” said Sherry Schliesser, principal at Kingswood. “After researching and exploring our responsibility for the waterways around us, it really opened my eyes to a whole larger world.”
On Wednesday, the school’s staff, students, community partners and local dignitaries officially dedicated a new rain garden and rainwater collection system, a project that was more than four years in the making. The goal is to reduce erosion from storm water runoff, improve Black Creek, and provide outdoor play and learning opportunities for students.
“As an environmentally focused school, with Montessori learning, we value our Earth and we understand our part in either making it healthier, keeping it healthy, or taking it the other way,” said Schliesser. “This project has really brought it home how our students, as they go forward in the world, can play a part in making this a better place to live.”
The most visible part of the storm water management project is the 2,100-gallon cistern that captures rain falling on the media center roof. Students use water from the cistern to irrigate their vegetable beds and to water plants in the school’s greenhouse.
The rain garden was installed on a hill between the basketball courts and the main school building. The below-grade garden collects rainwater like a drain, using plants and soil to filter water and pollutants.
Native grasses, wildflowers and shrubs were planted next to the cistern and in the new rain garden. Project planners anticipate that the native plants will attract pollinators and wildlife to the school campus, to be observed by curious students.
Kingswood partnered with the Black Creek Watershed Association to design and install the rain garden, cistern and native plantings. The work was funded by a grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to restore the Black Creek Watershed in Cary.
“Working with Kingswood has been a bit of a dream for us,” said Christy Perrin, with the Water Resources Research Institute and N.C. Sea Grant. She coordinates the Black Creek Watershed Association.
Black Creek flows from downtown Cary to Crabtree Creek, and ultimately into the Neuse River. The state lists Black Creek as impaired due to excessive stormwater runoff and associated pollutants.