Over the past six weeks, a construction crew has removed 3 feet of soil from a 1,007-square-foot area on the grounds of St. Pius X Church and School in Towson, filled in the hole with sand, then added a layer of mulch to help filter out pollutants from the rainwater which falls on the property.
The work is a part of the church's new $89,000 "bioretention garden," which will reduce the environmental damage caused by stormwater runoff from the church property.
On Nov. 1, engineer Nick Lindow looked over his work — St. Pius X's new garden will use the sand, plants and mulch to capture and filter the rainwater as it runs off the church's parking lot, thereby reducing the amount of pollution entering local streams and reducing problems caused by rushing water, such as erosion, said Lindow.
Lindow said the project created a more natural system for controlling the rain water that falls on the property, as opposed to the stormwater drain that used to convey the water before the garden was built. The native plants being added to the garden also are an environmental benefit.
"What was here before was a turf field, which is nice to look at, for recreation and stuff," Lindow explained. "But this will be more of a natural-looking area, with native plants. It will promote habitat for pollinator species and butterflies."
Students at the school at St. Pius X could even use the space as an outdoor classroom, Lindow said.
"Get a little natural play-time in," Lindow said.
Jenny Michalak, environment stewardship coordinator for the church, also looked over the garden Tuesday, describing it as a project that will help the church, the church's neighbors and the surrounding environment. For her, there's also the aspect of faith in the project — it's a way for the church to follow Pope Francis' environmental encylical, a teaching document, called "Laudato Si" calling on the church to care for the earth saying that climate change caused by humans is the biggest threat to the environment.
In this case, the man-made problem is the parking lot on the property. It's made of solid pavement that forces rain water, potentially contaminated with pollutants such as oil, to run off into a storm drain, where it flows untreated to Chinquapin Run, instead of seeping into the ground. From Chinquapin, the untreated water flows to Herring Run, then the Back River and eventually the Chesapeake Bay.
To address that problem the church chose to build the bioretention garden on the north side of St. Pius X's property.
"We felt it was good for our parish, good for our neighborhood [and] good for the environment," Michalak said.
Lindow, the principal of project designer CityScape Engineering LLC, described how the bioretention garden will work. Water that once flowed from an acre of land, including the half-acre parking lot, directly into a storm drain will instead be directed into the 1,007 square-foot stormwater retention area. The disturbed soil was used in the project to create a berm on the north side of the garden, preventing rain water from escaping.
As the rain water enters the retention area, it will flow down through the sand and eventually into the ground, becoming groundwater, Lindow said.
Local plant species will be added to the area to provide additional filtration, reducing pollutants such as oil and fertilizer.
The project is designed to handle one inch of rain falling on a drainage area of about an acre. That's about 2,000 cubic feet of water, flowing over staggered rocks, through mulch and sand before dissipating into the ground, according to Lindow.
The project will hopefully improve the health of nearby streams and reduce erosion and flooding on nearby properties, Lindow said.
For Michalak the project has a few extra goals.
"What it's really about is caring for others," Michalak said.
Design for the project began last fall, according to Lindow.
But a stormwater retention area, or a similar environmental initiative, has been on Michalak's mind for several years, even before Pope Francis issued his encyclical on "Care for Our Common Home" in May of 2015, in which he calls for action on human-driven climate change. She said she began attending workshops brainstorming environmental initiatives for churches more than two years ago.
St. Pius X is putting into action the St. Francis Pledge, an initiative of the national Catholic Climate Covenant, which asks people and organizations, such as churches, to respond to a moral call for action on climate change as well as to advocate on behalf of people in poverty who face the harshest impacts of global climate change.The Catholic Climate Covenant was formed in 2006 with the mission of implementing Catholic social teaching on ecology in the United States, according to the covenant's website.
Michalak also hopes to project will serve as an example to the community of what can be done to address stormwater runoff at home.
"This is a massive installation," she said. "But even your average everyday homeowner can do similar things in a smaller fashion."
Baltimore-based Blue Water Baltimore, a nonprofit focused on cleaning up the region's watersheds, is managing the project. St. Pius X is a part of its Blue Water Congregations program, which helps religious groups reduce storm water run off.
The funds for the St. Pius X project came to Blue Water Baltimore from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, according to Blue Water Baltimore Construction Operations Manager Oswaldo Campitelli. Blue Water Baltimore set up and paid for the project, managing its design and installation.
Construction on the project began Sept. 19 and will conclude Nov. 4. On Sunday, Nov. 6, the garden will be dedicated to the Rev. Lou Reitz, who served at St. Pius X for 47 years before retiring this summer, according to a church brochure on the event.