CHINATOWN — A patch of playground concrete outside Haines Elementary School has been transformed into an eco-friendly rain garden, courtesy of volunteers from international water policy groups visiting the city.
Construction on the project began earlier this month, when the city's water department dug up a square patch on the playground's back half.
On Saturday, volunteers from a host of agencies, including the Water Environment Federation and the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago, converged at the school, 247 W. 23rd Place, to install soil and plant native grasses and sumac, a short shrub.
The concave rain garden will help sustain the plant life and collect stormwater that would otherwise be diverted into the city's sewer system.
The water infrastructure workers on hand during the school's "WaterPalooza" event said the roughly 1,024-square-foot garden won't have a major impact on the city's stormwater management system — something state and local leaders have poured tens of millions of dollars into recently to help shore up.
Still, they said it's a hands-on way for kids to start grasping the bigger issues of infrastructure and water scarcity. The WaterPalooza event also featured demonstrations from the Center for Neighborhood Technology's Sustainable Backyards program and the Illinois Water Environment Association.
"We're hopeful the kids will take some inspiration," said Timothy Moran, an engineer who helps lead the Water Environment Federation's community outreach efforts.
The group is in Chicago for the group's annual WEFTEC conference.
Shortly after Saturday's ribbon cutting, the rain garden underwent its first test run as torrential rains soaked the Chicago area, with more than an inch falling in less than an hour.
"Considering last night was a pretty significant rain event, it was perfect timing for installing a rain garden," Moran said.