Fordham Notes: FordhamScience: From Three, to Two, to One, Fordham Shrinks its Footprint

Thursday, July 15, 2010

FordhamScience: From Three, to Two, to One, Fordham Shrinks its Footprint

Building a housing structure on 113 acres of pristine forest, meadow and wetland – especially one located partially within the New York City watershed – is no typical construction project.

Fordham’s Office of Facilities Management learned just how much is involved when implementing plans for Fordham’s new graduate student housing at the Calder Center.

The project was conceived back in 2005 as a set of three, four-bed log cabins somewhere on the grounds. One issue developed over the amount of land that had to be cleared in order to accommodate three separate structures and surrounding landscaping.

Since Calder is a 113-acre nature preserve used to train biologists in environmental science and conservation, it made sense to keep the structure’s ecological “footprint” as small as possible: new plans were drawn up to make two six-bed cabins instead.

While working with the Town of North Castle on a necessary site approval plan, the structures were classified as ‘dormitories’ rather than ‘residential’ property. The Town would require both buildings to have sprinkler systems installed (since there is no fire hydrant near the properties) which would have necessitated more costly underground piping between buildings.

To save money and further reduce the building’s ecological footprint, plans were redrawn for one two-story 12-bed house. Those new plans saved close to 39,000 square feet of forest, and some 15 trees from destruction. They also cut back on the amount of asphalt and granular pavement to be installed.

The issue of storm water management also arose. The cabin was being built partially within the New York City watershed and somewhat close to Calder Lake; therefore the project needed to be done in accordance with the regulations of both the New York City Department of Environmental Protection (NYCDEP) and the New York State Department of Enviornmental Conservation (NYSDEC).

Since several upstate counties, including Putnam, Duchess, Delaware, Ulster and Westchester, contain sources that bring fresh water to the City’s nine million residents, the NYCDEP’s watershed rules are very strict. Any potential ground and surface water pollution from development in watershed areas must be mitigated accordingly.

“Mitigating the disturbance” of land requires that whatever is installed will result in no net increase to the rate of runoff from the site after development (i.e., if forest is being replaced by a lawn or building, a storm water basin has to be installed to ensure that groundwater drains at the same rate as it did before the trees were removed.)

The trick was finding the ideal spot to locate the storm water management system—typically in a soil density that can best help filter pollutants—and to and incorporate the right practices within that system to meet each agency’s standards.

“You could almost say we put in the house to support the stormwater basins,” said John Wehr, Ph.D., director of the Center. “But we have always said from the beginning that we want to be good stewards of our land.”


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