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Proposed Rain Gardens Would Give City Library Exterior a Makeover

Proponents of Garden Project Hoping to Complete It Before End of October, When Grant Funding Runs Out
New Brunswick Rail Arts River Green Infrastructure Corridor
A proposed route which imagines a "green" corridor which runs from the Roosevelt Elementary School down to the Raritan River Tobiah Horton

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—A new project proposed by several Rutgers University cooperatives could result in beautiful "rain gardens" adorning the New Brunswick Public Library by the end of October.

The proposal was presented to the city's Library Board of Trustees at its most recent meeting, where they were urged to quickly approve the project so the necessary grant funding, which runs out at the end of October, may be obtained.

The project is funded by a grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation in a grant earned by the Rutgers Water Resources Program (RWP).

Tobiah Horton, who presented the plan, said he hopes work on the rain gardens can begin by the third week in October.

“We are attempting to get [started] before the last week of planting this year,” Horton, an assistant professor in the Department of Landscape Architecture at Rutgers, told the library commission.

Heather Fenyk, the executive director of the Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership and a member of the city’s Environmental Commission, said the project is consistent with other projects the Commission has done.

“This is consistent with a citywide attempt to address some of the wide scale flooding in town,” Fenyk said.

Horton said the purpose of a rain garden is to intercept storm water from impervious surfaces like roofs and paved areas before it reaches the storm sewers.

“Direct runoff from impervious surfaces contributes to poor water quality in our streams and rivers,” he said. “First and foremost, rain gardens at the library will compliment the library's mission to educate and serve the New Brunswick population. The gardens will have signage that can teach library users about science concepts, development patterns and environmental issues, among other things.”

While the Library Board generally supported the project, several members raised concerns about the future cost of maintaining the rain gardens.

Library Director Dr. Robert Belvin said that, although right now it is hard to determine the future cost of maintenance, he believes it’s an issue that can be worked out.

The current proposal is for rain gardens on each side of the library building.

However, Horton said, it's part of the Green Infrastructure Corridor to the River, a larger project which imagines a continuous walking/water corridor from the Roosevelt Elementary School through the Henry Guest House and New Brunswick Free Library, and ultimately connecting to Boyd Park and the Raritan River.

Horton said the potential future project could explore the historical stream beneath the Guest House landscape, where Guest had his tanning pond.

“Part of the thinking behind the Rail-Arts-River process is to find places where there is a confluence of the cultural, historical, commercial and environmental,” Horton said. “The Guest House is one such place, where a potential current environmental improvement meets an opportunity for historical interpretation - green infrastructure could be used to show and interpret the path of a historical stream and early New Brunswick industry.”

Horton said construction of the rain garden would take about a week from start to finish.

“Building a rain garden consists of clearing existing vegetation, removing poor soil or soil that won't infiltrate, adding ‘bioretention’ mix soil, controlling erosion with gravel or small stones at the water's entrance and exit, and planting, mulching and watering - this process at the library should take about a week for both gardens,” Horton said.

He explained that a rain garden has three zones, similar to the edge of a water body.

Horton said that at the lowest elevation are plants that prefer wet roots, followed by a middle elevation where the roots are sometimes saturated but often dry; and finally the sides or edges of the rain garden which are up above and are drier.

The Rutgers Water Resources Program is responsible for project management and engineering design, while Horton is in charge of the landscape design, planting, and construction supervision.

“Student interns will also be involved in the project work, digging, planting and mulching - learning the details of how rain gardens are made,” Horton said. “Once our schedule is established, we will publicize it so people can see the process in action and learn more about rain gardens.”

Horton said the plan is to use native perennials such as Aster, Lobelia, Iris, Mistflower and grasses such as Soft Rush, or River Oats or Bluestem; as well as small shrubs such as Swamp Milkweed or Swamp Azalea, and others depending on design refinement and availability.

He said that part of the goal of the project is to educate the public on how to build rain gardens.

“It is our hope that from the beauty and the understanding of benefits, library users will be inspired to create rain gardens at their own home or workplace,” Horton said.

He said anyone interested in building their own rain garden may consult the Rain Garden Manual of New Jersey.

Horton said the department of landscape architecture will also give design advice to people that have questions regarding building a rain garden at home and can contact him at Tobiah.horton@rutgers.edu.