Stormwater management at Roland Park Country School draws fire

Students gather at a gazebo in the "backwoods" of Roland Park Country School, which is installing a stormwater management system to deal with erosion. (Courtesy of Roland Park Country School / December 31, 1979)

The Roland Park Civic League is concerned about a new storm water management system to address erosion in the woods behind Roland Park Country School.

The school is installing a buried piping system to control runoff in the school's so-called "backwoods," and to cut down 29 dead and dying trees as part of the process, according to school spokesman Nancy Mugele.

According to league President Chris McSherry, school officials sent a letter in March to about 100 residents who live nearby, along the west side of Deepdene Road, announcing plans to install a new system. But the letter did not give details , and the number of trees felled before Memorial Day, some of them as old as 50 years, was higher than residents and the league expected, McSherry said.

"None of us understood the number of trees that were going to be taken down," she said.

There is also concern about how the storm water management process will work and whether additional water being streamed toward the edge of the school's property will harm what one resident, who asked not to be identified, called "an already fragile retaining wall" in the area, among other environmental issues.

McSherry too described the wall as "crumbling." She said the league is happy that the storm water management system is being installed, but that school officials "didn't tell us how much clearing they were going to do," including removing underbrush and some smaller trees, too.

"They probably removed a total of 100  trees when you include the smaller ones," McSherry said. "Obviously, people were upset," she said, adding that some dead and dying trees closer to the road have not been cut down yet.

The issue was discussed at the June 4 meeting of the civic league, where Duncan Booth, director of facilities for the school, and Mugele gave a presentation at the league's request about the work being done.

McSherry said there have been persistent complaints about water streaming down a hillside on the campus and into Deepdene Road, spurred by construction on campus in recent years. The erosion has resulted in four trees falling on residents' cars in the past five years, she said.

Several residents on Deepdene did not respond to requests for comment for this story.

Mugele said an earlier storm water management plan was in place when Roland Park Country's new middle school was built in 2001 with a science wing facing Deepdene — "and at the time, there weren't issues," she said.

The school also built a new athletic complex in 2008.

School officials became aware of erosion issues in the 5-acre wooded area over time and "we began to address those issues really seriously four years ago," leading to the new system, which is expected to cost $450,000, Mugele said.

She said a lot of rain water is coming off a service road on campus and that part of the storm water management plan calls for building a curb along the service road, which runs parallel to Deepdene Road.

In October 2012, school officials met with residents and presented the new plan, which had three components — cutting down trees; installing the pipes, which range from 48 to 24 inches in diameter, and putting in place a reforestation plan, Mugele said.

McSherry said the school has known for more than 12 years that there was an erosion problem, but didn't start to address it until the trees fell and several victims sought financial compensation for damages.

The meeting in 2012 was only with those residents and no plans were presented, McSherry said.

Mugele disputed that, saying four families expressed in the school's plans and were invited to the school to see the plans. Only one of the people at that meeting was a victim of tree damage, Mugele said.

The city, which owns a forest conservation easement on the site in perpetuity, had to approve the project, and approval of the first two components was finalized in March. The school sent a letter to residents in May, alerting them that the work was starting, Mugele said.

"We are working through the process as we need to with the (city) Office of Sustainability," Mugele said. The city has not approved a reforestation plan yet, but, "We didn't have to have the reforestation plan approved before we started work," she said. "The tree removal and piping was not contingent on reforestation plans."