Lower Columbia River Field Guide to Water Quality Friendly Development
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  da Vinci Arts Middle School
Jean Vollum Natural Capital Center (Ecotrust Building)
People's Food Coop
ShoreBank Pacific



2508 NE Everett St.
Portland, OR 97232
Dan Evans, Science Teacher


Dan Evans first pointed out the Rough Skinned Newt in the pond. Then “Moby” the goldfish, then some just sprouting wapato and a bathing bird before settling down and taking it all in. Standing in the same spot in the back of da Vinci Arts Middle School a year ago he would have overlooked a cracked, decrepit tennis court. A year of hard work later, he was taking in two giant rain collection cisterns, a wet pond, a wetland area connected to the pond by a small stream bed, and hundreds of native plants. “It’s an amazing little place” he said.

Evans initiated the project as a way to directly involve his students in urban ecology – and involved they have been – from design, to construction, to maintenance.


Wear your work clothes tomorrow” he yells out as the bell rings and one of his classes starts packing up, “we’ll be working out in the garden.”

The old tennis court area is more than just a garden though. The area is a fairly sophisticated stormwater management site that captures and processes stormwater runoff from a large parking area as well as the roofs of 4 large portable buildings positioned next to the school.

The project includes the following elements. Two 5000 gallon cisterns receive runoff from two of the portable buildings. A small wet pond receives water from the other two portable buildings and includes a pump that recirculates water through a series of sculptural flow forms that illustrate water’s natural movement, and help oxygenate the pond. The pond which was dug and shaped by students and volunteers is lined with native plants. When water levels rise to a certain point, it flows through an outlet into a small gravel lined streambed that carries the water to a small wetland area.

Stormwater runoff from the parking lot is also directed to the stream and wetland area. In the heaviest winter rains, a French drain out to the soccer field provides a last outlet for the wetland. Evans remarked that even during the heaviest of rains, the soccer field area has had only minor ponding. “Once these plants grow up” he said, “and start taking up water, I don’t think we’ll have any water leaving the site.” For now, an irrigation system run off the cisterns provides the water necessary for the garden’s young plants to become established.

A $30,000 City of Portland Bureau of Environmental Services stewardship grant, and a number of other grants helped with project costs, but the majority of the work was done with volunteer labor and donated or significantly discounted materials. A local group, Urban Water Works worked extensively with school, and Evans says that he and many students spent their summer working on the project.

Evans’ estimates that the stormwater garden will remove between 300,000 and 500,000 gallons of water a year from the City of Portland’s sewer system. Equally as important, he envisions the area as a living laboratory and art space for future students. Currently, student construction continues on a shelter area and artistic flags hang from the still intact chain link fence that once surrounded the tennis court.

When asked what was next, Evans’ replied, “a living machine, run by solar and wind power that can treat all of the liquid waste generated by our school cafeteria” and he was off again jumping into the details of the next project.