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Center in the Storm
Environmental Center Exemplifies Stormwater Practices

Center in the Storm

The landscape for the Brock Environmental Center, located at Pleasure Point in Virginia Beach, Va., was designed to fit within incredibly sustainable constraints in order to represent the environmental sessions offered by the educational institution. The Center sits on 10 acres in the Chesapeake Bay area.

According to a report from the National Research Council, stormwater runoff from built environments is one of the biggest challenges in modern water pollution control. Therefore, when taking on projects, landscape architects would benefit from the implementation of effective stormwater sustainability techniques whenever and wherever possible. One such example of a project that promotes sustainable stormwater practices is the Brock Environmental Center, located at Pleasure House Point in Virginia Beach, Va.

A Model of Sustainability
The Chesapeake Bay Foundation's (CBF) primary goal in creating the Brock Environmental Center was to protect, preserve and celebrate the natural setting, while simultaneously showcasing technology and practices that contribute to net-zero energy, water and waste. CBF was looking for a landscape architect to master plan a landscape to surround a net-zero building that would serve as the headquarters for their outdoor environmental education programs in Hampton Roads and also provide a public meeting space. Both the structure and landscape were to be models of sustainability, restoration and education about the Bay and local rivers.

According to CBF's website, polluted stormwater runoff is a particularly harmful problem for the Bay, and the main source of dirty water in many urban and suburban areas. As the intensity of storms and rainfall in the Bay region has increased in recent years, flooding and stormwater runoff has become even worse. Therefore, stormwater sustainability was an even more important factor in the design. The Brock Environmental Center is a flagship location for CBF, whose charge is specifically to engage, inform and inspire generations about the environment and how to protect and restore the water quality of the bay.

Center in the Storm

WPL planned and designed the entire 10 acres of the Center to prevent stormwater runoff into the surrounding residential and commercial land. The entirety of the Brock Environmental Center land is seen in color.

Center in the Storm

All of the many rain gardens located throughout the grounds were designed to use native vegetation, carefully selected for its tolerance to the dry, sandy (low-nutrient) soils that characterize the site. Some invasive species were removed to promote local sustainability.

Prior to the current stormwater standards initiated by the 2014 Virginia Stormwater Regulations, CBF commissioned WPL Landscape Architecture to approach the site design using innovative rainwater management solutions. Through this project, both the Foundation and WPL exemplify ethics of minimal disturbance to land and water. The project is heralded as one of the first in the nation to deploy such a unique energy and water independence.

WPL served as the landscape architect, civil engineer and land surveyor for this project. Their services included master planning, site design, land planning, site and environmental analysis, civil engineering, land surveying, arboricultural planning and design and stakeholder design stipulations.

A Plan for Stormwater
WPL's site analysis included an investigation of the ecological function of the site, emphasizing the site's potential to filter stormwater from beyond its own boundary. Through their design, WPL ensured that all rainwater gently disperses throughout the property and filters its way through vegetation and soils, never flowing through pipes untreated into the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Rainwater from all roof areas is collected, filtered, disinfected and treated to provide total water supply within the building. This includes drinking water, which was a major goal for the design team.

Center in the Storm

On the various walkways near the Center's building, pervious pavers rest on sandy gravel-type soil. Any stormwater that falls is absorbed into the ground, or it filters into bioswales and rain gardens.

Center in the Storm

WPL designed wooden railed walkways to match the height of the first floor of the building, raised 13.8 feet above sea level. At their full height, the walkways are unaffected in tidal ranges up to 7' above sea level.

Excess rainwater from the roof and graywater from the building move into separate rainwater and graywater gardens. These gardens treat their respective incoming flows and infiltrate water into native sandy soils.
The site design minimizes land disturbance. Existing native trees, shrubs and beach grasses absorb rainfall and allow periodic flooding from coastal storm events to spread and recede naturally. Essentially, the entire site was returned to its natural condition. Hardscape pedestrian areas are composed of permeable pavers and gravel types, as adjacent rain gardens and bio-swales treating runoff. Native plantings allow water filtration and treatment within the rain gardens while reducing runoff volume and meeting pollution-reduction goals.

A Resilient Landscape
Given the great importance of sea level rise resiliency to CBF, the team worked to find the best building location on site and to set a floor elevation appropriate for accessibility and future storm and tidal surges.

Winston Place, the main entry road to the Center, is the first permeable-paver public right-of-way in the city. It has no basins, inlets or pipes. Rainwater infiltrates through the pavers and into sandy soils. When a storm event provides excessive run-off, water flows into bio-swales flanking the street, ultimately improving water quality. The rain gardens are planted with Juncus grass, a native wetland rush, as well as Live oak, American Beach grass and Common rush. The rest of the site was left to naturalize. Since installation, other native wetland plants have taken root, creating a thriving rain garden system.

Center in the Storm

With no walls or blockades to prevent the rise of the tide, and with absorbent, sandy soil, the bay endures the natural flow of the ocean with no flooding problems.

Center in the Storm

The site captures, stores and uses only as much water as inhabitants need and use during the course of a year, maintaining net-zero water consumption. This is accomplished through the storing and reusing of rainwater for hand washing, etc. All graywater and additional rainwater runs through a biofiltration system.

The Center was certified through the "Living Building Challenge" by the International Living Futures Institute, which is a global, nonprofit green building certification program and sustainable design framework that works to lessen climate change through building programs. The project also achieved LEED Platinum status. CBF's principles were embraced in the selection, programming, design and construction of the site.

The project set the standard for sustainability even after new stormwater legislation was set in Virginia. Today, it continues to serve as an example of responsible sustainable design on the east coast.

Team List
Landscape Architect - WPL
Civil Engineer - WPL
Architect - SmithGroup JJR
Mechanical Engineer - SmithGroup JJR
Electrical Engineer - SmithGroup JJR
Geotech - Engineering and Testing Services, Inc. (ETS)

As seen in LASN magazine, January 2019.

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October 17, 2019, 4:28 pm PDT

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