The Capitol Hill neighborhood of Seattle is known for its vibrant culture, diversity and nightlife. Just moments from the downtown core, it's the most densely populated residential district in the city and is filled to the brim with some of the best food, coffee, retail shops and live music venues in Seattle.
Three blocks from the Pike-Pine Corridor, the heart of Capitol Hill, there's a seemingly hidden respite from the hustle-bustle: Seattle University. A Jesuit Catholic university founded in 1891 and located along the southern edge of the neighborhood, the school is home to 7,500 undergraduate and graduate students studying across many disciplines. It's also home to award-winning sustainability efforts, a designated wildlife area and numerous native, pollinator and edible plants and trees (including a Giant Sequoia, a campus icon).
Charged with creating, maintaining and expanding programs to reduce Seattle University's environmental impact
is Karen Price, Campus Sustainability Manager. A Certified Sustainable Building Advisor and LEED Accredited Professional, Price has been with the university for nearly eight years and was graciously willing to answer several questions about her work:
MNN: What ongoing or upcoming on-campus sustainability initiatives are you the most excited about? Why?
Price: Seattle University is making a major financial investment in equipment that will reduce energy and carbon dioxide emissions from our swimming pool area. This new heat recovery system will capture "waste" heat from the pool area exhaust and use it to preheat incoming fresh air and pool water. By "recycling" this waste heat, the system will cut annual CO2 emissions by around 340,000 pounds and save $80,000 in annual energy costs.
In your opinion, what has been the most successful on-campus sustainability program (or programs)? What made it such a success?
In my opinion, Seattle University's most successful on-campus sustainability program is our LEED Gold building policy. We built four LEED Gold buildings in three years between 2009 and 2012: Admissions & Alumni building, School of Law Annex, McGoldrick Learning Commons and the Eisiminger Fitness Center. LEED's rigorous documentation standards for designing, constructing and maintaining buildings drove us to install green building strategies our campus had never used before, such as solar panels, green roof, rainwater cistern, rain garden, FSC certified wood and low-VOC materials.
How can students get plugged-in with on-campus sustainability efforts?
The Urban Farm
is an innovative collaboration that grows organic produce for needy families. The farm was created on an acre of unused land at the King County Wastewater Treatment Plant in Renton, 11 miles south of campus. In 2011, the first year, 7,000 pounds of produce were given to the Salvation Army Food Bank in Renton. Seattle University's Environmental Studies students plant, grow and harvest food as part of their coursework in sustainable agriculture. The students also provide public outreach and education on the benefits of growing produce using biosolids, the nutrient-rich organic product of wastewater treatment. Research shows biosolids enrich soils and keep them productive and healthy. Seattle University students who are not Environmental Studies majors have also been enthusiastically volunteering their time at the Renton Urban Farm.
There's a rain garden on the Seattle University campus, near Madison St. and 11th Ave. Why did Seattle University choose to handle excess waste water that way?
In 2006, the basements of Lynn, Hunthausen, Xavier and the Chapel flooded when nearly three inches of rain fell in 24 hours. Stormwater came from the surrounding neighborhood and flowed over the intersection of Madison and 11th streets and onto Seattle University's property. The reason the flooding occurred has to do with humans' impact on the landscape. The large number of impervious surfaces in Seattle will continue to cause flooding during heavy rains. Lee Miley in the Facilities Department researched two options, which cost roughly the same: build a conventional stormwater detention system or build an alternative called a rain garden. Facilities convinced management to go the rain garden route because it cost the same, it would be a showcase for other property owners and it would avoid the removal of the nearby and established plants.
A rain garden is a natural stormwater management strategy that is a proven solution because it adds pervious surfaces and mimics nature. A rain garden is an excavated depression planted to look like a garden. Stormwater infiltrates through layers of soil and gravel as plants transpire moisture and help attenuate pollutants. Seattle University's rain garden is ten feet deep, lined with a special fabric and perforated drainage system and filled with a soil mixture designed to absorb and retain water. Two trenches along the entire west wall of the Lynn building route water away from the building; one fills the rain garden located on the south lawn and the other relieves the water from the building's foundation and flows directly into the City's combined sewer overflow system.
Seattle University has received national recognition for its sustainability efforts. What about those efforts make the school standout compared to others?
There is an unlimited range of sustainability-related projects and programs any university can implement. In my opinion, the ones that get chosen are based on the culture of the school and the surrounding community, the degree programs offered, whether the school is research-focused or not, public or private, small or large, urban or rural.
What makes Seattle University stand out is our lush 50 acre, sustainably cared for landscape in the heart of a major city. Our landscapes have been maintained without pesticides or herbicides for 15 years. It has been a designated wildlife sanctuary for 24 years. Our gardeners plant native and drought-tolerant plants. And they also plant plants people can eat, like blueberries, strawberries, rhubarb, tomatoes, eggplant, figs, apples, pears, lettuce, mint, thyme, sage, oregano and more. And it's all organic!
Another award-winning program that makes Seattle University stand out is our on-site compost facility. Our compost facility receives one thousand pounds of food waste and coffee grounds a week from the campus kitchens that is turned into compost and spread on our gardens. This ten-year-old facility is located adjacent to apartments and restaurants in the heart of a major city and has operated without odor issues. My hunch is that most universities with a compost facility are in a rural location.
From a landscaping perspective, Seattle University is one of the most lush, green campuses I've ever seen. How important is that to the identity of the school, and why?
Seattle University's lush landscape is very important to our identity. Many students cite our landscape as one of the first reasons they fell in love with the school. One of the most common comments from parents and prospective students is about the beauty of the campus. Students, staff and faculty find peace and solitude here in the midst of a very urban setting. The fact that the grounds are maintained organically is also a draw for students and parents.