menlo nature lab project update

Eco-Friendly Education: Menlo Park Academy to Use NEORSD Grant to Build Green Nature Lab

Originally posted on March 29, 2023, at

Menlo Park Academy (MPA) is going green this year thanks to a Green Infrastructure Grant (GIG) from the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District (NEORSD).

The K-8 charter school for gifted children was awarded the $250,000 grant in January to create The MPA Green Infrastructure Nature Lab, which will offer opportunities for experiential learning and incorporate ecological landscape design. 

The Nature Lab will consist of landscape improvements, including multiple bioretention basins, permeable pavement to reduce runoff into sewers, a rooftop rainwater collection-infiltration system that channels rainwater into underground storage chambers, and multiple gathering spaces alongside a terraced amphitheater.

The plan calls for trees and plantings to increase infiltration—the ability of the ground to absorb water—and includes site work prep for additional projects, including natural play areas.

“The students will see the water cycle and stormwater management up close: Where water comes from, why too much rainwater in our sewer system is a real issue in our community, the impacts to Lake Erie, and creative ways to divert water instead of watching it disappear down a pipe,” says MPA parent Kelly Fisher who has a background in stormwater management and stepped up to help the school make this project become a reality.

While the primary purpose of this development is to reduce surface water runoff, it will also provide new opportunities for experiential educational programming, Fisher says.

The Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District is the municipal agency managing stormwater runoff and wastewater treatment in the Cleveland area. Cleveland’s combined sewer system transports both stormwater and residential sewage, but in the event of extreme rain—which is becoming increasingly common due to climate change caused by burning fossil fuels—the runoff is sent directly into Lake Erie without being treated.

In 2009 the agency started the GIG program to reduce the working load on aging combined sewer infrastructure.

Since its inception, the GIG project has removed over 10 million gallons of stormwater from the sewer system, part of the Sewer District’s greater Project Clean Lake to reduce four billion gallons of toxic runoff from entering Lake Erie by 2036.

Menlo Park Academy is located on seven acres in Clark-Fulton, an area plagued by issues with the combined sewer system. The school first sought grant funding from NEORSD after more than a year of construction to separate nearby sewer and stormwater pipes made accessing the school difficult. 

The school building was previously home to the Joseph & Feiss Clothing factory before the company abandoned the facility in the 1990s. MPA purchased the building in 2015 and received historic preservation tax credits to renovate it ahead of the 2017 school year.

Although the building itself has been thoroughly renovated, the surrounding landscape remains largely untouched, which contributes to the area’s stormwater runoff issue. 

“The school is a beautiful building, but the area outside has hardly been touched,” Fisher says. “It’s mostly just grassy lawns.” 

Fisher first got involved more than two years ago when the school asked parents for support in attending a mandatory meeting. After attending a preliminary meeting, she helped draft a proposal for a $25,000 design grant from the sewer district by deciding which improvements could decrease runoff while creating new educational spaces.

The school was awarded the initial design grant, providing them with the resources to hire Tremont-based Behnke Landscape Architecture and Highland Heights-based Hovancsek & Associates engineering firm to help develop the proposal for the larger $250,000 grant which will allow them to implement the proposed design. 

The school’s engineers estimate the project will divert more than 150,000 gallons of water per year from the combined sewer system when completed.

Jennifer Ingraham, Menlo’s Director of Marketing, Enrollment, and Engagement, says the project provides a new jumping-off point for programming many different subjects. 

“We’re going to be able to bring indoor learning outside, integrate the outdoors, the environment, green infrastructure, and water management into our curriculum, better connect ‘real life’ and schoolwork, and provide hands-on, place-based examples as the foundation for learning in any subject,” she says.

Construction of the Nature Lab will begin this summer with a completion date sometime during the next school year.