Two-Star Certified Pilot Project

Location: Allendale, Michigan
Project Size: 45.38 acres
Project Type: Institutional / Educational
Site Context: Suburban
Former Land Use: Greenfield
Terrestrial Biome: Temperate Grasslands, Savannas and Shrublands
Budget: $11,000,000
photo by: Grand Valley State University

Project Overview

The project consisted of a multi-sport, multi-field athletic complex that provides playing surfaces and support facilities for GVSU’s intramural, club and varsity sports teams. The project timing and location was adjacent to a significant stormwater management project that GVSU was undertaking, so the projects were combined in pursuit of certification. This integration allowed these two projects to better utilize the valuable land resources at the university, while taking advantage of site planning, sharing of earthwork volumes, and integration of landscaping and stormwater management techniques. The recreational fields help further GVSU’s intent to create health and well-being opportunities for the campus community, and the stormwater management complex allowed GVSU to further their campus stormwater goals. The GVSU campus was founded in 1960, and their stormwater management goals seek to restore the historic drainage patterns for the entire campus and reduce the total runoff levels to pre-development conditions.

Regional Context

The university campus is located in the lower west portion of Michigan. The campus is developed on land previously used for farming and consists of predominately clay soils. It is within a half mile of the Grand River and sits approximately 80 feet above the river elevation. The developed campus is relatively flat land with a series of heavily wooded, steep ravines between campus and the river's edge. This region averages 32.8 inches of precipitation per year.

The Grand River is a major tributary river draining into Lake Michigan. There is a national effort to protect the water quality in the Great Lakes, and this project embraced the sedimentation control aspect of the greater Great Lakes mission.

SITES Features + Practices

Stormwater management: Replicating the pre-development hydrologic conditions of the site by increasing the storage capacity of the site to manage and treat the stormwater on site, as well as managing and treating the stormwater runoff from 50 acres of developed portions of the campus was a major challenge for GVSU. Since developing a campus-wide approach to stormwater management, GVSU looks to manage collected runoff using a regional, comprehensive approach rather than a project-by-project approach. The stormwater complex design is sized to manage runoff from a large area of south campus, and the location was chosen because it is within the fall zone of a large TV tower. Buildings and parking lots cannot be constructed in a fall zone area, but a stormwater management complex is a great use of the land. Stormwater is routed via piping networks to a forebay for initial capture, detention, and sedimentation. Runoff overflows the forebay into multiple cells with varied habitat and water depths, constructed at progressively lower elevations.

Wetland rehabilitation and improvements with native plants: Diverse, native wetland plant communities are planted in the cells, and habitat structures are installed to further diversify wildlife habitat. The plant types and multiple cell design were chosen uniquely for this project due to the regional climate, existing soil conditions, and faculty monitoring efforts.

Recycled materials: Recycled rubber infill for the fields allowed for a softer playing surface as well as allowing excellent drainage.


As a provider of higher education, the GVSU community is a diverse group of faculty, students, administration, and staff. In order to reach informed decisions and gain support for their building and campus projects, GVSU establishes a design steering committee at the beginning of every project. The committee includes design and construction professionals, as well as faculty, administration, students, and facilities departments. This integrated design approach is an important reason for the success of their campus growth.

Following the Integrative Design Team Process for the SITES certification pursuit was very familiar due to GVSU's established project approach and was a crucial component in the success of the project and certification effort. By reviewing the credits prior to design, the project team was able to efficiently navigate the credits and requirements.

Maintenance + Stewardship

Maintaining the recreation fields, support areas and lighting systems and providing continuous access to these areas for faculty, students, and staff will help GVSU reach their goals of promoting health, exercise, and well-being for the campus community. In order to maintain the goals for the stormwater complex, GVSU is conducting monthly monitoring of water levels within the stormwater cells and preparing wetland quality reports as part of the project's MDEQ permit requirements. GVSU must prepare monitoring reports for five years and a performance bond has been established in the mitigation areas. In addition, faculty and students are conducting ongoing monitoring projects to research water quality in the cells, as well as wildlife habitat.

GVSU has established maintenance guidelines for the recreation field surfaces, as well as the stormwater complex. These guidelines will be strictly enforced and modified as needed throughout the life of the facilities. The GVSU facilities department works closely with faculty performing monitoring projects within the stormwater complex. As vegetation and wildlife communities mature in the complex, maintenance protocols may be adjusted to optimize the environment.

GVSU's commitment to sustainable site design and stormwater management includes efforts to transfer their knowledge and research to their surrounding community and peer institutions. They have hosted several educational sessions and walking tours of campus in order to highlight their constructed stormwater best management practices-including porous pavements, rain gardens, green roofs, wetlands, and stormwater reuse systems. These tours have included local regulatory agencies and officials (Allendale Township, City of Grand Rapids, Ottawa County Drain Commissioner, etc), as well as the representatives from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, colleges and universities. GVSU maintains a website of their stormwater initiatives:

Local regulatory agencies have started to examine ordinances and approval processes to encourage sustainable design practices on other projects within the area.

Site Challenges

The most significant site challenge was managing the existing clay soils to minimize exporting soils offsite and creating proper stormwater drainage for the overall project. The project team needed to design proper drainage systems for the recreation fields to ensure maximum playing time on these surfaces for sports.

The design solution included a panel pipe herringbone under the drain system under the fields to capture stormwater. The stormwater management complex needed to be sized to create adequate storage volumes for runoff, encourage evaporation and plant uptake, and create viable ecosystems for habitat.

To minimize exporting soils offsite, the design included balancing the cut/fill volumes of dirt-resulting in excavating and compacting more than 180,000 cubic yards of soil within the project boundary. The design required careful site layout to ensure the size needs of the recreation fields and stormwater complex were met. During construction the clay soils presented challenges due to above average rainfall totals during the 2011 construction season. Due to the poor drainage characteristics of clay, rain created scheduling challenges for completing earthwork operations.

Project Goals + Successes

GVSU had two major goals with this project. The first goal was to create additional health and well-being opportunities for their students and faculty. The recreational fields include synthetic turf surfaces, support facilities, and site lighting which allow students and athletes to utilize the complex for longer seasons and more hours than previously available.

The second goal was to further their campus stormwater goals. In 2004, GVSU opted to devise a more sustainable approach to campus stormwater management by creating a plan to gradually return the stormwater runoff on campus to the conditions present in 1960 (prior to campus development). To accomplish this far-reaching goal, several objectives and goals were developed:

  • Abandon the tradition of isolated stormwater management solutions on each construction project 
  • Develop and adopt an overall, campus-wide approach to stormwater management 
  • Engage faculty and students in the effort to reduce runoff 
  • Identify alternate uses for the water generated from hard surfaces 
  • Employ, monitor, and evaluate multiple stormwater Best Management Practices

This project collected runoff from the southern half of the developed campus and created a stormwater complex to responsibly manage the runoff, while creating wildlife habitat. The complex serves as a demonstration project on how to manage stormwater onsite, while providing a valuable “outdoor learning laboratory” for students and faculty. Monitoring programs will research the viability of wetland creation as a stormwater management technique. This project represented the largest stormwater initiative to date at GVSU and restored the hydrology for the southern portion of campus.

GVSU has been committed to sustainable design principles in all of their capital building projects for the past decade. Their commitment has resulted in more than 1,000,000 square feet of LEED-certified building space, partnerships with the Department of Energy for energy efficient building design, and national recognition for their academic programs and buildings. The SITES pilot program provided an opportunity to showcase their commitment by highlighting sustainable campus site design and stormwater management.

There has been an overwhelmingly positive response to the new quality and extended playing times of the new student recreation fields, and university departments are gaining valuable knowledge from plant and animal studies in the stormwater management complex. Monitoring programs are being facilitated by geography and biology faculty and students to study various species of wildlife and plant life. Stormwater runoff verifying the viability of the complex to improve runoff quality and encouraging uptake of water by evaporation and native plants will also be monitored. GVSU is restoring the historic drainage patterns on campus, which reduces the amount of stormwater runoff and erosion from the campus ravines leading to the local rivers. Faculty are studying the restroaction effects on these wooded areas.

Lessons Learned

  • Fully understand SITES credits before beginning the project. 
  • Project goals and SITES credits are communicated to the entire team, including contractor.

Project Team

Grand Valley State University
James Moyer, Associate Vice President for Facilities Planning
Scott Whisler, LEED AP BD+C - Project Manager

Integrated Architecture
Tim Mustert, AIA - Architect
Pete Izworski, AIA - Architect

Fishbeck, Thompson, Carr & Huber
Kerri Miller, P.E. LEED AP BD+C - Civil Engineer
Ryan Musch, P.E., LEED AP BD+C - Civil Engineer

Triangle Associates
Scott Jernberg - CM Project Manager
Mark Buczek - Construction Superintendent

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