NOLAmotion Blog

August 6, 2009

Killing the Green at Green-built Schools

Filed under: Uncategorized — nolamotion @ 9:48 am
Live oak at new Langston Hughes School being damaged by heavy equipment

Live oak at new Langston Hughes School being damaged by heavy equipment

We are all excited that children in New Orleans soon will be walking the halls of beautiful new schools built to USGBC LEED standards. However, though the buildings may have been constructed to green standards, the actual green settings the schools sit within–the grounds, the trees, the soil–are being killed by the same old-style construction approach LEED for Schools attempts to change.

At Langston Hughes School on Trafalgar, a lone live oak was treated as the centerpiece by the Recovery School District design team. The physical structure was wrapped around the tree with the intent to create an iconic component of the campus.

Over the past month the contractors, Roy Anderson Corp of Gulfport, Mississippi, lost their way on the path to green and let heavy equipment gouge and compact the soil around the already-stressed tree, dooming it to die-off in the coming months.

Tens of thousands of dollars, possibly more, were spent accommodating that live oak. And, in the final weeks of construction, RAC–in a rush to complete on time–turned the Hughes site into a pig sty of mush.

This is not the only messy school site with problems of runoff and soil degradation. Greater Gentilly High and Holy Cross High on Paris Avenue near the Lakefront are also messy, muddy, soil-damaged sites.

There is a pattern of site mismanagement happening around New Orleans as we rebuild. Despite federal and state regulations requiring the filing of a  Storm Water Pollution Prevention Plan (SWPPP), one of the first permits needed when developing sites of more than one acre, none of the RSD schools, or former housing project sites, appear to have such plans and permits in place. A SWPPP is a site management plan for preventing runoff from construction activities to enter nearby storm drains. This is why you see silt fences and other creative filtration systems on construction sites. The aim is to reduce pollution and to prevent the clogging of vital storm drains and reduce flooding.

EPA and DEQ have strongly enforced rules in other areas of the state; but, they gave New Orleans a break because of Katrina. However, as evidenced by the lack of site management all over town, it’s long past time for them to pay a visit.

What’s really sad is that the major construction firms doing the most damage are very familiar with SWPPP plans because they adhere to them everywhere else. But, because EPA and DEQ haven’t been demanding compliance, these firms are skirting the laws, resulting in muddy sites that are clogging storm drains and adding pollution to area drainage systems, many of which flow into Lake Pontchartrain.

After sending emails with pictures to representatives of organizations involved in the RSD rebuilding, I’ve received no response and see no evidence of improvements. Thus, I again post pictures and words that I’d rather not. And after such a glowing story in last week’s paper, I am compelled to note that the Times-Picayune reporter evidently was blinded by the green glitz and didn’t see the green being killed under his feet.

Langston Hughes School was designed around this carelessly damaged by contractors live oak.

Langston Hughes School was designed around this carelessly damaged by contractors live oak. Photo taken 8.6.09

Contractors in the act of damaging Langston Hughes School's only mature tree. Aug. 6, 2009

Contractors in the act of damaging Langston Hughes School's only mature tree. Aug. 6, 2009

Mud flowing into storm drain at Langston Hughes School August 5, 2009

Mud flowing into storm drain at Langston Hughes School August 5, 2009

5 Comments »

  1. Steve,wnen our house was being built here in Florida,I repeatedly told the contractor to do everything possible to save our trees.But,at one point I actually had to stand between a small oak and a bulldozer to save the tree’s life. There MUST be strong oversight at these construction projects. EPA and DEQ have got to get involved because,no matter how well intentioned the contractor may be, silt happens.
    Teddy

    Comment by Ted Cobena — August 6, 2009 @ 12:11 pm | Reply

  2. You’re right, Ted. I learned today that the contractor has liability and will possibly be fined and will have to replace the tree if (when) it is determined that it can’t be saved. Oversight is very lacking in the rebuilding in our area. I don’t know how bad it is in other states. Common sense, helps, too, though. Techniques to prevent damage to trees during construction are not hard and have been around for decades. It is particularly painful that in a city where live oaks are so beloved and iconic, that we continue to allow their abuse and destruction.

    Comment by nolamotion — August 6, 2009 @ 8:22 pm | Reply

  3. When you pay people to be stupid you always get your money’s worth.

    Comment by Tony — August 17, 2009 @ 9:58 am | Reply

  4. Steve, good work pointing this out. As an architect working on another RSD school in the area you’ve alerted me to go and re-examine the construction details and wording in the specifications for the protection of the existing oaks that we also have on-site and are scheduled to be building around.

    Comment by myles — December 6, 2009 @ 8:24 am | Reply

    • Thanks, Myles. I appreciate your input and assistance. There is much work to be done. But it’s not hard if everyone would just learn a few basics. We need to be better stewards. I’m grateful for every step in the right direction. Thanks for taking a big one!

      Comment by nolamotion — December 6, 2009 @ 5:28 pm | Reply


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