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Photo Caption: Rachel Canizares, a student at Seitz Elementary, pours water on the permeable pavers of the parking lot behind the elementary school during a classroom assignment during the 2014-2015 school year. (Photo Credit: COURTESY PHOTO)

August 29, 2016
By
Maria Childs, Fort Riley Public Affairs
Source: www.army.mil

FORT RILEY, Kan. -- At first glance, the parking lot behind Seitz Elementary School looks like a normal, asphalt parking lot. Underneath the surface, the parking lot is surrounded by more than 40 monitoring wells and an elaborate monitoring system that provides the Environmental Protection Agency with information about water quality.

Students at the elementary school use data collected by sensors in and under the parking lot to conduct science, technology, engineering and math projects inside the school.

About 90 percent of the parking lot is non-permeable asphalt that directs rain water toward one row of parking stalls on the south end of the lot. There is a section of permeable interlocking concrete pavers that allow high volumes of water to infiltrate and fill a collection point, called a storage gallery, below the surface.

The design and how it is used are being recognized at the federal level. The parking lot project is being recognized by the Department of Energy with a Federal Energy Management Program award for Energy and Water Conservation.

Chris Otto, Net Zero Water program coordinator for the Directorate of Public Works Environmental Division, said the project is unique because of the partnership behind it. The Army, Army Corps of Engineers and the EPA partnered to construct the parking lot in 2014 and completed it in August 2015.

The EPA representatives collect water samples from the monitoring wells and uses data from the sensors to observe how the lot functions and how it impacts water quality. The sensors in and under the parking lot send data to a weather station on the roof of the school. That stations collects weather data and the sends all the information to the school's wireless network.

Otto said the school was already collecting rain water for use in toilets and cooling towers prior to this project, but students and teachers did not know how much water was being collected.

"While it is usually hard to get excited about parking lots, this one is exciting because of all the benefits it is providing," Otto said. "The lot helps the parking needs of the school, is providing critical information to the EPA on how permeable parking lots function, is helping Fort Riley promote water conservation in support of Net Zero and will be a valuable learning opportunity for the students."

Otto said the parking lot is also being used as a live storm water laboratory to teach students about weather and water conservation. Specialists from the EPA and Fort Riley worked with Kansas State University, the Kansas Association for Conservation and Environmental Education and USD 475 to provide a workshop where teachers learned how to meet new Kansas science teaching standards using data from the parking lot.

"The teachers worked with KACEE to develop lesson plans and curriculum that they can use," Otto said. "Those goals line up with common core standards teachers have to meet."

Leia Webb, STEM coach for Seitz and Morris Hill Elementary Schools, attended a USD 475 workshop where the lesson plans were developed. She already had experience with children and the parking lot.

"Before the school year was out last year, I did some lessons with the 5th grade because their standards are about the human ecosystem," Webb said. "They were pouring the water on the parking lot to see how it would absorb the water, learning what permeable meant, how it dried quickly and how that impacted the environment."

As a STEM coach, Webb teaches children and provides resources to teachers that connect children to information that meets the education standards. Although the data from the EPA is not available quite yet, Webb said the next step is for students to analyze it and turn it into a visual element such as graph or chart. She didn't think much about how the children would react.

"I didn't realize how powerful it would be to pour a large amount of water on a parking lot, and then these kids ran with it," Webb said. "They were so excited, and they moved on to what they could do for the environment … they ate it up in a way that I didn't expect. It was one of those moments to me that solidified that is what we need -- it's not a picture or video, it's in their backyard."