This month as part of our 50 Stories for Our 50th we are celebrating our Green Infrastructure work. In the past couple of years, our Virginia Environmental Education Specialist, Meredeth Dash out of our Richmond, Virginia office has been working hard to connect local students to their waterways through green initiatives on their schoolyards.

In Spring 2017, during a grade-level planning meeting, Meredeth mentioned the idea of a rainwater harvesting system that would capture roof runoff and double as an art sculpture for a music and arts-focused school. This is how the green initiative started at Binford Middle School in Richmond, Virginia.

How was this project funded?

The initiative, funded by a grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Chesapeake Stewardship Fund, was a collaborative effort between the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay and its partners to determine what type of stormwater best management practices (BMPs) were practical for installing on a 103-year-old historical school building. Binford Middle School’s Principal Rickey worked with the Alliance and Richmond Public Schools (RPS) Facilities to choose which BMPs were feasible to install and would have the most impact. The final choices were: permeable pavement for the entrance, conservation landscaping in front beds, and a rainwater harvesting system for the northwest corner.

Who designed the project?

Binford art teacher, Kirstie Sadler, who also attended the initial planning meeting, connected the Alliance with two native Richmond artists, Matt Lively and Tim Harper. You can check out more of their work here.  Together, with landscape designer, Scotty Dilworth, stormwater engineers, Dave Hirschman, Kip Moomaw and Charlene Harper, the Alliance and its team published the Binford’s Green Infrastructure Plan.   Once practices were chosen, Mrs. Dilworth coordinated all the project partners including Commonwealth Curb Appeal, who installed the permeable pavement entrance and sidewalks.


From left to right: Matt Lively, Meredeth Dash, Tim Harper stand at the completed rainwater harvesting sculpture which faces Floyd Avenue on the northwest corner of the school.  Each of the five troughs when full can hold 437 pounds of water.  Photo credit: Meredeth Dash, September 2018

Students and art classes participated in an art contest to design this rainwater harvesting system. The designs were reviewed, and the winning idea was used as inspiration for the final design. The final system is a series of five troughs that slowly drain rainwater into the garden bed below. The troughs stand on skinny legs and have clouds attached to the front. When viewed from Floyd Avenue, a popular through-fare in Richmond, the sculpture appears like a cartoon squall. When not raining, teachers can still activate the system for demonstrations with a garden hose. It is the perfect combination of science, art, and environmental education.

Besides a permeable pavement entrance, and a rainwater harvesting system, Binford has two unique labyrinth walking paths made with Virginia native plants. The idea of the labyrinth was conceived by Scotty Dilworth who also chose the native plants. Mrs. Dilworth was one of 2018’s recipients of the Alliance’s Watershed Champion Award and has worked with the Alliance for several years. Her landscape design work can also be viewed on the northeast side of the school where she led the installation of a rain garden.

Native plant labyrinth along Floyd Avenue adjacent to the front entrance of the school. Photo credit: Meredeth Dash, August 2021

The entire 3-year project embodied teamwork and collaboration. All work completed at Binford is custom-designed and functional, making it the largest green infrastructure project in RPS. 

How will this project influence future Green Infrastructure projects at schools?

The Alliance continues to maintain the Binford green infrastructure practices with the help of the school, Mrs. Dilworth, and volunteer groups.  As maintenance issues have surfaced, the practices offer opportunities to test different maintenance strategies and grow our relationship with the Richmond Public School’s Facilities Department.  This learning experience has led to additional grant-funded projects at Open High School in 2019, and a reforestation project installed in April 2021 at John B Cary Elementary School. Each project increases habitat for pollinators, adds shade, prevents pollution from entering the James River, and most importantly, offers an outdoor space for teachers and students to become the next generation of environmental stewards.