Dorothy Height Charter School is excited to announce that construction of the Height Stormwater and Nature Center is nearing completion, and the school anticipates that the Center will open this fall for its scholars and children from the surrounding Algiers community. 

The Stormwater and Nature Center was made possible as a result of the Sewerage and Water Board’s Green Infrastructure Grants Program. Height and Spackman Mossop Michaels (SMM), an international landscape architecture firm, jointly applied to this program in 2018. In early 2019, Height and SMM learned that the Sewerage and Water Board had awarded them a grant of more than $375,000 to fund the project. Additional support for the Stormwater and Nature Center came from Saving Our Urban Landscape (SOUL), a nonprofit that donated 40 trees to the project, as well as the Louisiana Green Corps, whose volunteers helped with the planting of 10,000 plants on the site. 

The Stormwater and Nature Center consists of a rainwater detention pond, rain gardens, boardwalk, and native trees and plantings, all of which will help mitigate the flooding that can occur when heavy rains fall. 

The Sewerage and Water Board hopes that projects such as the Height Stormwater and Nature Center will allow them to “slow the flow and hold stormwater, while also reducing the burden of stormwater on our aging pumping and drainage infrastructure,” Sewerage and Water Board Communications Director Courtney Barnes said. 

SMM also worked to ensure that all aspects of the project were sustainable. In fact, the firm did not remove any soil that they unearthed during the construction process. Instead, SMM used the soil to build two hills for the scholars to enjoy.  There were also two decaying trees onsite that were cut into big logs for scholars to interact with and observe. The logs’ continued presence will offer an additional opportunity for real-time learning for scholars, as they will become a natural habitat for insects and demonstrate what happens to fallen trees in swamps and other outdoor settings. 

Due to the rainfall that New Orleans has been experiencing in recent months, CCS and SMM have already been able to gauge the effectiveness of various components of the Stormwater and Nature Center, such as the rain garden.

“It’s been exciting to see that it works the way that we intended it to and that it’s collecting water in the way that we want it to,” SMM Project Manager Emily Bullock said.

Once launched, the scholars will use the Stormwater and Nature Center to increase their knowledge and understanding of various subjects, and SMM worked with Height and Crescent City Schools to tie in grade-level learning objectives to the signage created for the Center.

In terms of student interaction with the site, SMM worked to find ways to engage scholars of varying ages. For older students, there are signs that provide information about stormwater from a national perspective, as well as at regional, city, and site levels. For younger scholars, SMM designed and inserted playful creatures (made of metal and colorfully painted) throughout the garden to mimic a game of iSpy. 

Scholars will learn how the detention pond, native plantings, and varying elevations not only create a natural outdoor amphitheater but also how such green infrastructure benefits the city as a whole. These elements will hold 1.25 inches of stormwater and in turn, provide more time for the city’s pipes to catch up during big rainfalls. 

“We’ve been able to create a resource that I think a lot of people in the city will be interested in seeing, experiencing, and learning from,” Bullock added.