Forecast is green for Issaquah Valley Elementary rain garden

June 7, 2011

By Laura Geggel

Project gives water a place to go in school parking lot

A group of Issaquah Valley Elementary School students plant native species in the rain garden near a new city-owned parking lot and bus loop by their school. By Mary Joe de Beck

What used to be a strip of gravel parking spots near Issaquah Valley Elementary School is now a paved parking lot and bus loop. The new impervious surface has led to another development: a student-dug rain garden filled with 500 plants of varying shades of green.

The paved loop and rain garden were the brainchild of Rory Cameron, a city senior transportation engineer.

He alleviated the traffic mess near Issaquah Valley by designing the long and skinny parking lot and bus loop — built in early 2011 — and he needed to find a place for the rain to go.

His answer? A student-planted rain garden, placed at the edge of the bus loop along Northwest Holly Street. The garden would not only give students ownership of their school but also an expanded understanding of their environment, he reasoned.

“It’s a legacy for all the students who can come back and see how they grow,” he said.

Using money from the Complete Streets transportation fund, the city purchased 500 plants, a number matching Issaquah Valley’s student population.

“The teachers were excited about the environmental stewardship,” city Resource Conservation Office Senior Program Manager Mary Joe de Beck said.

From May 31 to June 3, students arrived at the rain garden in waves, planting different configurations of plants and trees.

Each class of students learned about the importance of the rain garden. Plants help clean the air of carbon dioxide, and the long garden would provide the place for rainwater to go. The sandy soil would filter the water of chemicals, like oil, before it drained down to the groundwater beneath the land.

Fifth-grader Jacob Zamano paused while planting a dogwood tree to say he enjoyed planting “so we can have more nature in the city,” not to mention, “because there’s going to be a ton of rain.”

Students learned that certain plants prosper in wetter environments. Cameron divided the rain garden into three zones: a wet zone, a medium-wet zone and a dryer zone.

“If you look at the profile of the road, you can see there’s a little bit of a low spot,” that will get more rainwater, he said.

Students dug holes and filled them with slough sedges, dwarf osiers, dogwoods, sword ferns, Oregon grapes and sun roses. A crew of AmeriCorps workers — Kelly Ferron, Brianna Craft, Hai Nguyen and Britta Marti — helped the students get their hands dirty and put plants in the ground.

Fifth-grade cousins Verania Tolosa and Kelly Tolosa planted dogwoods together, digging holes and filling them with plants. Their classmate, Kaitlyn Sherrill managed to keep her white outfit pristine, even though she was digging in the dirt.

Throughout the school year, the city’s Environmental Education Outreach Office has helped schools, including Issaquah Valley, learn about resource conservation. Sam Wilder, a contractor with the city, has worked with every fifth-grade class about composting, recycling and waste reduction in the lunchroom and the classroom. In turn, the fifth-graders taught the rest of the school their newly learned environmental habits.

“The biggest accomplishment here was they were able to get their waste to five gallons a day” during a waste-free lunch exercise, Wilder said. “They keep downsizing their Dumpster, which saves the school money.”

The one-day accomplishment reduced garbage by almost 24 pounds and 30 gallons, the same as two and a half tons per year. The accomplishment, along with composting and recycling, has earned Issaquah Valley the title of level one King County Green School.

Elementary school students have a new appreciation for all things “green,” and the rain garden is a great way to reinforce that idea, Principal Diane Holt said.

“We used it as an educational opportunity and at the same time a great way to plant 500 plants,” she said. “It’s awesome.”

Laura Geggel: 392-6434, ext. 241, or Comment at

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