June 3, 2010
BOCES students filter Lime Hollow waste
New Visions class building system to naturally clean ‘gray’ water from bathroom sinks
CORTLANDVILLE — Eight high school students are wrapping up a project that posed an enormous challenge this spring: how to compost gray water, the water from people washing their hands.
Any number of substances can be washed off people’s hands at the Lime Hollow Center for Environment and Culture’s visitor center, after people return from exploring forests, swamps and other natural areas.
The question has been, what to do with the water from sinks in the center’s three bathrooms.
The students in Onondaga-Cortland-Madison BOCES New Visions class found the answers and have been finishing the compost project, an area behind the center where the water is absorbed into a mix of soil and sand, filtered more by plants, then flows into a nearby bog.
Hard substances settle from the water in two 55-gallon tanks, then the water flows into the soil, which is 18 inches deep and separated from the soil around it by a rubber sheet similar to a swimming pool liner. The section measures 12 by 25 feet.
Plants will provide another filter for some of the water, once they are chosen and planted.
As water fills the soil area, it will overflow and travel into the bog, to be absorbed.
The project was devised by the students in New Visions teacher Tim Sandstrom’s afternoon class, working with Tom Reese, Lime Hollow’s superintendent of buildings and grounds.
New Visions is a BOCES program that gives students a course away from a school building, which combines workplace experience with academic credit in science, English and social studies.
Sandstrom has another New Visions class in the morning, with 21 students, that has been doing smaller projects around Lime Hollow. The classes meet at the Tunison Laboratory of Aquatic Science off Gracie Road and frequently help Lime Hollow with projects.
“This gives the students something they can’t get anywhere else, as they did research on what is known about this process of handling wastewater — and not much is known, it turns out,” Sandstrom said.
Glenn Reisweber, the center’s director, thought of the gray water project and proposed it to the Cortland County Health Department, which approved it. The students, who are from Homer, Cortland and Marathon high schools, then had to research the project’s different aspects and present their plan to Reisweber, Reese, BOCES officials and Health Department engineer John Helgren, whose son Johannes is one of the students.
Johannes Helgren worked with Marathon’s Cheyne Aiken and Homer’s Ethan McMahon to plan how the water would be absorbed into the soil.
“We had to figure out how fast the soil would be saturated,” McMahon said, “and the drainage rate.”
Helgren also created the PowerPoint presentation the students used in making their pitch to his father, Reisweber and Reese.
Homer senior Alexis Brown was assigned to research the plants that will be put in the soil to filter the water further before it enters the bog.
“We have to choose the plants yet, but they’ll be native bog species,” Brown said. “We’ll also choose based on price, and PH levels in the soil. They would have to withstand heat, because this area gets a lot of sun.”
Sandstrom said that as the students see which plant species survive the heat, they can plant more. Brown said the students will continue to finish the project even after they graduate later this month.
Cortland senior Josh Nelson studied the flow system’s capacity, which he found would be 21 cubic feet per day. He also helped to create a plan for when the compost area becomes flooded, as sometimes people leave faucets on in the bathrooms for an entire day.
The other students are Homer’s James McKenna and Marathon’s Shawn Neville and Adam Underwood.
Sandstrom had one class of about 18 students until this year, when the demand grew and BOCES made two sections. The morning class, which starts at 7:30 and ends at 10:30, has students from Tully, Cincinnatus, McGraw, Cortland, Homer, Marathon, Fabius-Pompey and DeRuyter.
“We had 40 kids apply for next year, and we used a panel this time to choose 30 of them, so we’ll have two sections again,” Sandstrom said.
Nelson enrolled in the course, which fulfills several academic requirements in a half-day format, because he wants to enter politics and thought it would help him learn about environmental issues. He also wanted to meet people from other high schools.
A Republican, he thought he would meet people with more liberal views, which he has.
Brown plans to attend Tompkins Cortland Community College and eventually become a zookeeper. She said New Vision allows her to work with animals in the wild.
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