Planning For A Rainy Day

The University of Kansas in Lawrence is well-known for its basketball history, but did you also know the university has a commitment to effective planning principles and sustainable practices?

As KU expanded its west campus by adding a new classroom and pharmacy building, an opportunity to create a large-scale comprehensive Stormwater Management Project presented itself. In 2009, funding was secured and design began on this significant green improvement to the university.

About The Funding

The project was funded through a partnership among the university, state agencies, and the federal government. Through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, the Environmental Protection Agency awarded $35 million to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) for green infrastructure projects.

KDHE contributed an additional $1 million in state funding from the Kansas Clean Water Revolving Fund, and selected 12 municipal wastewater capital-improvement projects totaling $29 million.

In June of 2009, KDHE selected an additional 15 projects worth $7.7 million, providing $178,941 in funding for the KU West Campus Stormwater Management Project.

The goals for the federal and state green infrastructure grants were to:

• Create jobs

• Provide non-traditional clean-water infrastructure

• Protect water resources

A stipulation of the grant program required funded projects to be under construction no later than February 17, 2010, which created an immense sense of urgency; design began almost immediately.

The university selected Landworks Studio to provide landscape architectural services and Professional Engineering Consultants Inc. to provide all of the survey and utility base data, along with an evaluation of hydraulic capacities of the design improvements and estimated storm-water discharge rates.

About The Site

The campus is divided into two distinct areas by Iowa Street, a major north-south arterial. The heart of the original campus lies just to the east of Iowa, and the more recently developed campus is located to the west.

New construction is prevalent on the west-campus property, as a new Park-and-Ride facility had recently been completed and construction of the new pharmacy building was underway near our site.

The area on the west campus had been master-planned around a large, open space surrounded by buildings. The storm-water project would become the central feature of a new quad enclosed by the multi-discipline building on the west, an existing biology center to the southeast, and the pharmacy building to the north.

The area open for storm-water management was more than an acre of undeveloped ground. This highly functional space connected the research buildings and satellite parking via perimeter sidewalks, and also served the infrastructure needs of the buildings with many utility lines and a large concrete service tunnel.

From the beginning, the design team was challenged to develop a concept that would provide surface storm-water management without disturbing the utility lines and tunnels while also preventing flooding of surrounding buildings.

An additional challenge involved coordination with the architecture team that was completing the pharmacy building directly north and uphill from this project. The project limits had to be clearly defined, and the pedestrian connections and grading required close coordination as well.

Part of the architectural design of the pharmacy building included an elevated bridge connection to the existing multidisciplinary building, all of which had to be seamlessly integrated with the pedestrian approaches from each side.

The opportunities, however, were significant. Storm water was already surface-flowing over the site from the northwest to the southeast and from the east to the west, so demolition would be minimal, and runoff calculations were already defined.

The open space was heavily used by students and faculty, providing a perfect opportunity to create a functional, educational, and aesthetic site promoting interaction among building occupants and offering a focal point, a sense of place, and an amenity for the developing west campus.

The design team quickly established a goal of providing interaction points between the students and the plant materials, along with educational signage to emphasize the benefits of green storm-water management techniques.

About The Design

The team developed three preliminary concepts illustrating various sizes of rain gardens connected with bio-swales.

One option created a series of small rain gardens utilizing longer bio-swales; the second concept offered small rain gardens at the source of the runoff, with a bio-swale to a larger rain garden; and the last option created a rain garden near the source to slow the runoff and filter it to three larger rain gardens.

All of the concepts attempted to maximize surface-recharge to reduce the runoff reaching an existing detention basin south of the project site.

Even in the earliest preliminary-sketch stage, facilities-operations staff members were involved with the design concepts in order to better understand the project goals and benefits.

One of the main concerns for staff involved a complete change in maintenance practices from the current procedures. There had to be an assurance that maintenance could manage the completed landscape without extensive hand-weeding and watering.

The overall look of the project, once completed, is not only the responsibility of the facilities maintenance staff, but also a direct reflection of their work efforts. If there are complaints, the staff will be the first to hear them. The design team understood and appreciated the staff’s perspective and listened carefully to its concerns.

The design-development plan featured six locations where pedestrians would either cross the rain garden and bio-swales or have opportunities for resting near the plantings and rain gardens. The rest areas became ideal locations for educational signage offering an up-close look at the plants, native stone, and insects in the swales and basins.

The team hoped that winged visitors from the nearby Monarch Watch Butterfly Conservation Garden would be frequent guests in the native-plant massings.

These rest areas did not survive the conceptual phase, however. The funds allocated for the project were only authorized to improve storm-water quality and quantity; the human experience within the projects was not a consideration. The design team removed these elements prior to completion of the construction documents to ensure the security of the funding.

The university does intend to provide benches, educational signage, and trash receptacles when additional monies become available.

The university maintenance staff completed the extensive native plantings this past spring; however, the climate in the summer was not favorable as the region experienced extreme heat and drought. It is too early in the process to know which plants survived and which will need to be replaced.

In spite of the stressed plantings, the project is aesthetically pleasing, and the rain gardens and swales successfully store and carry the water across the site. Ten percent of the nearly 10-acre watershed will be retained on-site during a two-year storm event, and the rain gardens provide 9,450 square feet of storage capacity at a depth of 12 inches.

About The Lessons

During construction, a few issues arose requiring the design team’s attention. The most visible of those issues involved the storm-drainage pipe installed under the sidewalks in two locations. The headwalls in each location should have been more specifically detailed to ensure complete aesthetic control and stability. The team made an on-site visit to review and ensure that the stacked stone used would be acceptable.

The second issue with the storm-drainage pipe involved the erosion at the discharge locations. The final plans called for flat stone to be used to disperse the water and protect the rain garden; in retrospect, geo-grid would have better held the soil while still allowing plant materials to establish.

Lastly, during construction the university was concerned about a portion of sidewalk designed to allow water to flow over the pavement in a concentrated area. Due to the lower building-floor elevations in the vicinity of the sidewalk, the civil engineer was most comfortable with this solution.

Although all disciplines recognized this was not the best solution, in hindsight, milestone project meetings might have shed light on a better solution and would have kept the client better informed on these smaller details. The required aggressive project schedule hindered the scheduling of these milestone project meetings.

Although the requirements for the green infrastructure funding were stringent, one obvious step was not a requirement for funding. The compressed schedule for construction did not allow the design team to measure the quantity and quality of the storm water prior to construction.

Subsequently, monitoring the storm water post-construction was not a requirement. Had time allowed, the design team would have gathered pertinent data and would have solid numbers to prove the innovative infrastructure was a success.

Over the coming years, the design team will continue to evaluate this project to determine which plants have the highest survivability rate and which have the most positive impact on the overall design.

There is no better way to learn and grow than to see and experience a design both at initial construction and through the years. It is also the best way to achieve professional satisfaction!

Carisa L. McMullen, RLA, ASLA, is a principal at Landworks Studio, LLC. She can be reached at (913) 780-6707, or



University of Kansas

Design and Construction Management

1246 West Campus Road

Lawrence, KS 66045

Contact: Marion W. Paulette, RLA, ASLA, Project Manager

(785) 864-3306

Landscape Architect:

Landworks Studio, LLC

18977 W. 158th Street

Olathe, KS 66062

Carisa L. McMullen, RLA, ASLA, Principal

(913) 780-6707

Civil Engineer:

Professional Engineering Consultants, P.A.

1263 SW Topeka Blvd.

Topeka, KS 66612

Contact: Michael W. Berry, P.E., L.S., LEED-AP, Principal

(785) 233-8300