WIEC planting

Senior plant biology major Josh Herzer and senior wildlife biology major Delia Delgado planted various native species into the hillside behind the Walter International Education Center, located at 15 Park Place, on Saturday.

Photographer: Monica Chapman

Phil Cantino

Under the guidance of Professor of Environmental and Plant Biology Philip Cantino (pictured here), students are developing and implementing a landscaping plan for the center, in coordination with the University's Grounds Department.

Photographer: Monica Chapman

Hannah Simonetti

Sophomore environmental geography major Hannah Simonetti, a project liaison with the Office of Sustainability, is among eight students involved in the native planting initiative.

Photographer: Monica Chapman

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Students take 'LEED' role in native landscaping plan for University's newest center

This special Compass series features the programs and initiatives through which Ohio University students, faculty, staff, alumni, and friends put the OHIO vision into practice every day.

Earlier this month, crowds gathered at the front of the Walter International Education Center (WIEC) for its grand opening and ribbon-cutting ceremony. But it's the building's backyard that is now garnering attention from the University's most ecologically-minded students.

Under the guidance of Professor of Environmental and Plant Biology Philip Cantino, students are developing and implementing a landscaping plan for the center, in coordination with the University's Grounds Department. Their aim is to restore native vegetation, promoting biodiversity and affording educational opportunities to students across the Athens campus.

"We've selected plants that there are none of or few of on campus so that they can be used in teaching," Cantino said.

In the past, Cantino has taken his plant identification classes far into the country to observe some of the species now being planted at the WIEC. Next year, a quick jaunt across campus will yield the same experience.

"Of course we like going out in the country, but as gas gets more expensive and so on, it's really nice to be able to take field trips right on campus," he said.

At first glance, the back slope of 15 Park Place appears quite barren – a stark contrast to the aggressive wall of invasive species creeping from the neighboring hillside.

But a closer look reveals young blackhaw, wild geranium, stonecrop, sweet cicely and waterleaf, among other native species. Several newly-planted persimmon plants will soon allow students the opportunity to sample its wild fruit. An area of prairie is also in the plans.

"Some of the plants we've picked because they have edible fruit or medicinal interest, others simply because we didn't have representatives on campus," said Cantino.

And the work has only just begun.

Saturday's planting was the second such session undertaken by student volunteers. Hannah Simonetti, a project liaison with the Office of Sustainability, has been meeting with seven biology majors weekly or bi-weekly since January to plan out the landscaping.

"It's just a cool opportunity," said Simonetti, a sophomore environmental geography major. "Plant bio students just want to have their hands in the dirt a lot of the time."

At the center's initial landscaping session on May 14, all of the vegetation came from student volunteer Dave Runkle's property. Uprooted, transported and planted by student volunteers, the landscaping was free of charge to the University, according to Cantino.

While the Office of Sustainability donated funds for the majority of the woody and prairie plants, contributions were also made by the University's Grounds Department, which has donated, procured and planted material purchased from local nurseries. To ensure healthy soil conditions, 17 cubic yards of Class 4 compost from the OU Grounds Class 4 composting program were also trucked in.

The project also has implications for the University's pursuit of Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification – the recognized standard for measuring building sustainability.

Pending approval by the U.S. Green Building Council, the WIEC will be the first University building to receive LEED certification. The planting aims to earn credit in the "Sustainable Sites" category.

Adding to the likelihood of obtaining LEED credits for the site is a swale, designed and created by Grounds equipment operators to slow and catch rain water coming from the building gutter system.

With Cantino set to retire and many student volunteers graduating this spring, responsibility for 15 Park Place's landscaping will soon shift to the University's Grounds Department, where Landscape Coordinator Susan Calhoun will oversee plan implementation.

Of particular concern to Calhoun is the abundance of invasive species in the area.

"We have just about every major invasive on that site alone," she said. "My plan will be to slowly reduce the invasive pressure by removal of the invasive plants allowing the natives to become established." 

Calhoun said Grounds will also be working on clearing invasive species from the adjacent hillside behind the president’s residence.

As a partnership between students, the Grounds Department, the Department of Environmental and Plant Biology and the Office of Sustainability, Interim Sustainability Coordinator Erin Sykes said the project exemplifies the power of cross-campus collaboration.

"Part of the mission of the Office of Sustainability is to green the practices and processes of the campus. This project does just that by setting an example for landscaping that is native, does not require mowing and is low-maintenance," Sykes said.

"This is education and outreach in a different form," explained Simonetti. "It's going to be a really awesome educational tool for students for years to come, but it also has that immediate reward of doing something tangible that's awesome for the environment."