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Starting the year green

 The new rain gardens are just the first step in creating a more sustainable physical environment on the campus of WITC-Ashland.

(8/30/10): Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College continues to respond to the rapidly growing interest in renewable energy and sustainability – both in operations and in programming. At both the campus and the college level, WITC is employing a variety of methods to improve sustainability and reduce costs. And the college continues to investigate and expand programming, while enhancing current programs.

  Locally, sustainability improvements will be evident at the WITC-Ashland Campus, thanks to the Ashland County Land and Water Conservation Department and a grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. Rain gardens, as functional as they are pretty, were planted at the southern edge of the campus. 

 Previously, with the curb and gutter system on WITC-Ashland’s south parking lot, rain water would rush off the parking lot, bringing salt, oil and other pollutants to the Bay City Creek.  That resulted in fluctuating water levels in the creek, bank erosion and standing pools of water on the WITC-Ashland property.

 “The gardens filter parking lot runoff through roots and soil and capture oil and other pollutants,” according to Kim Bro, an assistant project manager for the ACLWC. “The rain gardens also slow the flow of runoff water entering Bay City Creek, thus reducing stream bank erosion in the creek.  The gardens are designed to form shallow ponds for 2-3 days after a good rainfall and provide a slow, steady flow of clean water to the creek.  Because the ponds only last for a few days, mosquitoes can't reproduce the way they can in stagnant water areas.”

 Ted May, WITC’s academic dean for general studies and renewable energy and sustainability, heads WITC-Ashland’s Green Team and spearheaded the efforts to secure the grant money that made the rain gardens possible.  “We also used the soil that K and D Excavating dug out for the gardens to fill in low spots in other areas of the campus,” May said.

 Because of the heavy rains, the garden has been slow to establish, but May is confident the plants will recover.  “I’ve never seen anyone as dedicated to a project as Kim is to making this work,” May said.

 The new rain gardens are just the first step in creating a more sustainable physical environment on campus.  There are still some area where drainage and runoff are issues, and they will be addressed in future stages of the initiative.

 With a focus on 24/7 accessibility for students, the college’s new student orientation has the added bonus of reducing WITC’s carbon footprint.

 WITC recently created a new student orientation available completely online. The purpose was not to replace location-based orientations, but to provide equal access to online students and students who were unable to attend in person. This new online orientation venue has helped in WITC’s green efforts as well. Debra R. King, dean of students, was part of the team who helped design the online orientation option.

 “Because of the availability of the online new student orientation, we are able to eliminate the folder and handouts that previously were distributed in person and now direct students to view these materials online,” King says. “This reduction of paper is a complement to the electronic storage of records Student Services converted to in 2008. WITC continues to strive to provide excellent services to students, while creating as small a carbon footprint as possible.”

 Laura Sullivan, director of enrollment, emphasized the importance of the in-person orientation, but also stressed how the college has all but eliminated paper handouts during the orientation.  “The new student orientation day is really a great way for students to get some hands-on instruction, meet with their advisors and meet their fellow students.  We aim to keep the day fun and relaxed while we help new students through the process,” Sullivan said.  “However, we realize the importance of providing an alternative to our online students and those who can’t make it to the in-person orientation.”