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MacArthur Elementary School
Binghamton City, N.Y.

Landscape Architecture by Appel Osborne


The pitched roofs of the new MacArthur Elementary buildings drain rainwater to a center point where scuppers direct the flow to this bioretention area near the school's main entrance. It's designed to contain and treat a 10-year storm and is planted with native wet-tolerant plants, such as palm sedge and Louisiana iris, and has four feet of filter media.
 The school's location at the confluence of the Susquehanna and the Chenango Rivers on the south side of downtown Binghamton, N.Y. made it one of the worst hit areas during the 2011 flood.

During the first week of September 2011, remnants from Tropical Storm Lee and Hurricane Irene devastated the Binghamton, N.Y. area, including MacArthur Elementary School in the Binghamton City School District. Binghamton (pop. 47,376) is just north of the Pennsylvania border in a bowl-shaped valley where the Susquehanna and Chenango rivers meet. The Binghamton metro area is home to a quarter million people.

On the second day of the 2011 storm, floodwaters on the school grounds rose to 4 feet. Post-flood testing revealed the building walls had been contaminated with multiple types of pathogens. FEMA's assessment of the damage was that the school building was a total loss. The students and faculty had to be relocated. Over the next three years classes were held at two separate locations while the demolition of the flood damaged school and new construction on the old site were underway.

The design intent for the new construction was to implement a sustainable site, fully mindful of course that the location was in the flood plain of the Susquehanna River. It was imperative to design a flood resistant and safe environment without negatively impacting the surrounding flood plain. To that end, the project team used recycled materials and implemented efficient storm water management practices, while restoring the habitat and relationship between the river and the community.



The landscape architects worked with Parkitects, the upstate New York designers and distributors for Landscape Structures, to customize the play equipment, including this unusual under-the-building setting. The rope course for the Pre-K playscape interconnects with the building's support piers.

Appel Osborne Landscape Architecture (AOLA) of Syracuse, N.Y., played a crucial role in accomplishing these goals. The landscape architects were responsible for an initial site assessment of the flood damage. Alternative sites were explored as possible locations for the new school. However, this analysis determined there were no viable parcels available within the neighborhood. The existing site was the best option, but it had to be properly developed to mitigate any future flood damage. Once it was determined that the best and only site available was the existing school site, Appel Osborne proceeded with site plans that met the requirements of the FEMA 8-step process for review of actions located in a flood plain.

Throughout the project AOLA assisted in coordinating with multiple state and federal agencies. During the design and construction work the landscape architect collaborated with the lead architect, five consulting engineers and multiple contractors.



The larger play structure with the tube slide is set between the buildings. In the foreground is a bioswale with shade-tolerant plantings, boulders and bonded stones that capture runoff from the roof. The 'Mobius Ship Climber' (right photo) and swings (background left) complete the play elements.

Project manager Bernie Martin, RLA, worked closely with FEMA and the New York State Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services (NYS DHSES) to determine the best solution for restoring the flood damaged site, and where best to locate the new building. The Susquehanna River through the Binghamton area has been very susceptible to flooding over the years. Managing storm water on site and reducing runoff were foremost in the design criteria. Various options were reviewed. Floodwalls were considered, but deemed aesthetically detrimental and cost prohibitive.

The old school building had been set back 150 feet from the street and was about 5 feet below street level! To help prevent future flood damage, it was decided to site the new school building closer to the road. This accomplished two things. It elevated the building 3 feet above the 500-year flood elevation. Second, by being closer to the street, the building had a better street presence and fit more appropriately within the neighborhood. The main part of the building containing the school community infrastructure--the library, gym and cafeteria--was placed along the street frontage. The classroom wings were elevated on piers 6 feet above the 500-foot flood elevation and projected from the main building toward the river.


The community access trail is paved with bonded porous natural stone held in place with aluminum edging. The thickness of the stone surface coupled with load support grids under the stone and the adjacent lawn areas allow fire truck access. The custom amphitheater structure was constructed of reclaimed steel beams from the school demolition. The "stage" is a circle of permeable pavers. Boulders were placed for informal seating.
 The pedestrian-scale pole lighting has 'Bounce' LED luminaires.

The site was extensively regraded. Great care was taken to ensure that future floodwaters would not flow down to other properties. Displacement models were run to verify that the volume of floodwater on site in the existing condition remained on site in the proposed condition.

Compared to the original site, impervious surfaces were reduced and the majority of storm water is now stored and treated on site within 9 bioretention areas. A horizontal, subsurface flow wetland was added to treat and reduce storm water runoff prior to discharging off site. Native wet soil tolerant plants were selected to recreate a sustainable river basin plant community. To restore the habitat, the site features a native low-maintenance plant palette. Many existing trees and shrubs were saved and transplanted from the old site into the new MacArthur site. Porous bonded-stone stream bed swales are located between the classroom wings. When it's not raining, the swales emulate a dry streambed.

Playground under Classroom Wings
Playscapes were developed for the various age groups. They are mainly located underneath the classroom wings to maximize use of the site. The classroom wings essentially act as shades and protect the students from getting wet on inclement days.


Vehicle circulation was challenging because of an adjacent one-way city street. The school separates vehicles and bus traffic to offer safe passage for pedestrians. This is the bus loop, which incorporates a bioretention area in the center. The original school building destroyed by the 2011 flooding was set back 150 feet from the street and 5 feet below street level! The new school building is closer to the road and elevated 3 feet above the 500-year flood elevation. The classroom wings are elevated on piers 6 feet above that flood elevation.

LEED Platinum Certification
The pursuit of LEED Platinum certification was part of the design team's initiative from the beginning. The landscape architects played a role in this endeavor through site selection and site development that maximized open space and protected and restored the habitat. Other contributing factors to LEED Certification included bicycle storage, improved storm water design, the use of sustainable materials and water efficient landscaping. The determination of LEED certification for the building and site is still in progress. Credits approved to date equal a minimum of LEED Silver certification.

It was heartwarming for all team members to see the excitement of the students and staff at the ribbon cutting ceremony upon their return home to a new and innovative MacArthur Elementary School. Appel Osborne was honored to receive the Honor Award for Built Design from the New York Upstate Chapter of ASLA for this project.


Team List
Lead Architect: Ashley McGraw Architects
Consulting Landscape Architects: Appel Osborne Landscape Architecture, Building System Dynamics Engineering, Buro Happold Engineering, Hulbert Engineering and Land Surveying, Jennings Environmental, Sack and Associates Engineering

Evans Mechanical, G. DeVincentis & Son Gorick Construction Co., LeChase, PS&V, Schuler Haas Electric, Tower Roofing, Welliver 

Select Manufacturers:
'Boardwalk' benches, 'Apex' receptacles, 'Bike Garden' bike racks: Forms+Surfaces
Trench Drain Grates: Iron Age Designs
Play Equipment: Parkitects Inc./Landscape Structures Inc.

As seen in LASN magazine, June 2017.

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October 21, 2019, 1:46 pm PDT

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