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Penn State Harrisburg flood efforts example of college’s benefits: Editorial

Posted 10/3/18

Some benefits that Penn State Harrisburg has for the surrounding area aren’t always tangible.

But consider one that is: A group of Penn State Harrisburg students spent most of their 2017-18 …

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Penn State Harrisburg flood efforts example of college’s benefits: Editorial

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Some benefits that Penn State Harrisburg has for the surrounding area aren’t always tangible.

But consider one that is: A group of Penn State Harrisburg students spent most of their 2017-18 academic year analyzing the stormwater system not just of the borough of Middletown, but of Lower Swatara Township and Harrisburg International Airport, both of which play roles in the amount of water that comes into Middletown during a storm.

As our Dan Miller reported in last week’s Press & Journal, the students were led by Shirley Clark, a Penn State Harrisburg professor of environmental engineering who has experienced flooding as a Middletown resident.

The work has become a multi-year project, with the study being picked up by a new group of students under Clark for 2018-19. Most of the students involved in the study in 2017-18 have graduated.

This is high-tech stuff: The students created a computer model of the stormwater system, covering not just Middletown but the areas in Lower Swatara that impact stormwater runoff in the borough, such as the airport, Penn State Harrisburg, the warehouse complex north of campus, and the Middletown Area School District campus just north of the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

These students are getting out into the community, and culling together data from multiple municipalities that isn’t always collected in such a way. When it rains, they are often out in it, observing where water goes.

They want to try to prevent or at least mitigate events like what happened July 23, 2017. Do you remember when 5 inches of rain fell in about an hour that day? The water came cascading down high ground on the north side of Route 230 in Lower Swatara Township, starting above Penn State Harrisburg and gaining volume at each step in its progression toward the low-lying areas of the borough. By the time the water got to the Wood Street underpass, it was a raging river aimed directly at the homes across the road.

Cars and trucks were submerged, basements and properties flooded, and the entire Woodlayne Court apartment complex at Wood and Wilson streets had to be evacuated.

These Penn State students are mixing their quest for knowledge with the ability to help the community, and that’s a wonderful thing.

Among solutions they have proposed: a new stormwater basin on Penn State Harrisburg, and adding pipes to re-route flows from several campus buildings to the new basin; a new basin in the north part of Oak Hills Park in the borough; increasing storage at HIA; a new rain garden on Catherine Street near the Middletown borough building; increasing pipe sizes along Wood and Wilson streets; and  “green roofs” to absorb stormwater atop the borough building and on buildings at Penn State Harrisburg.

These are concrete conclusions that could help the entire area when the rains come.

More than that, there is a direct financial benefit right now. Borough Manager Ken Klinepeter has said it would have cost Middletown $10,000 to $50,000 to pay a consulting engineering firm for the work that the students are providing for free.

This project also gets these Penn State students out into the community. It exposes them to areas of the community they might not have otherwise visited. They get more and more invested in the area and the residents this way.

Penn State Harrisburg is not just the unseen university up on the hill. Its students and its staff are members of the community. We think it’s great that this project is having a direct benefit, both financially and for the well-being of us all.

Congratulations, and keep up the good work.