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Case Studies


Case Study No. 1: Native Plants Control Sediment back to top

Safety Kleen Corp., Elgin, Illinois
Cindy Blakely, Manager of Building Services, Safety-Kleen
Kerry Leigh, Landscape Architect, Eco Logic

Safety-Kleen needed a new corporate office building to house its growing operations as the world 's largest recycler of hazardous and non-hazardous automotive fluids. Top management wanted a building and landscaping in keeping with being an environmental company in its 1993 move to a site near Elgin, Illinois. About 80% of the 79 acre wooded and fallow site was left unbuilt. The developed portion includes the 285,000 sq. ft. building and two retention ponds for site runoff. The building was constructed in a compact U shape, around the interior parking garage. The only tree removal was for the access road and the building was placed in an open area surrounded by trees. A very large 150 year old oak tree was retained as a prominent landscape feature next to the building. Another site design objective was to protect the high quality of Tyler Creek. In addition to its environmental benefits, the compact site development with the natural wooded buffer enabled the large office building to fit into a developing residential area.

An interdisciplinary team planned the site restoration and landscaping, to retain and enhance the oak-hickory woods, plant native wet prairie around the 1.25 acre storm water pond, design a natural vegetated drainage outlet to the existing creek and planting prairie vegetation in the open spaces. Stormwater runoff was reduced due to the compact site design of the building and parking areas and the water-absorbing capability of deep rooted prairie plants. Fire access lanes were constructed with modular concrete units around the building which still allow a grass cover over them.

Site management includes removing buckthorn and honeysuckle in the woods and eventual burn maintenance of the prairies. Corrective stabilization work was necessary to repair some erosion and slumpage damage at a steep slope by the pond. The pond was planted with emergent and floating aquatic plants, aerated and treated with a bacterial enzyme supplement to control algal growth. A large spoil pile was re-graded and seeded with prairie species and a settling basin added to control its runoff. After starting with a native landscaping approach, changes were made for more traditional sod and annuals landscaping, combined with an irrigation system, to provide a welcoming front entrance to the building. Maintenance programs are being developed as has an educational booklet for employees.

Safety-Kleen estimates a long-term management cost savings due to less maintenance, mowing, watering and fertilizing. Installation costs compare very favorably to sodding. A compact sites means dealing with a lesser volume of storm water. Employees appreciate close-in, covered parking and a beautiful view as they work.

Case Study No. 2: Restoration of Prairie for Wildlife Habitat back to top

The Modine Prairie and Oak Savannah, McHenry, IL
James Rulseh, General Manager, Modine Manufacturing Company, Racine, WI

The Modine Manufacturing Company's McHenry, Illinois, plant manufactures air conditioning components for vehicles, one of the company's 50 worldwide manufacturing and sales sites. Built in 1961 on 105 acres of farm land, only a portion of the site is occupied by the factory and parking lot. Jim Rulseh was the plant manager from 1979 to 1990 and decided to promote the company's interest in using part of the site as a restored prairie ecosystem for wildlife. Much of his personal enthusiasm came from growing up in a small town in northeast Wisconsin and from his father, who had taken a wildlife ecology course from Aldo Leopold as a break from his engineering studies. The fallow fields and oak woodlands held promise for Leopold's idea of the voluntary practice of conservation on one's own land. As a manager, Jim Rulseh realized that he was making a change in his site economics from farm lease land income to committing to the expenses of restoration. He needed to plan a sound yet economical restoration project.

Starting in 1984, Rulseh worked with State and Federal agencies and local groups to get good information about the nature of the site and the potential for a 10-acre prairie restoration. The site was plowed and left fallow to deplete any residual herbicides; it was plowed again to freeze out the weeds over the winter. The Illinois Department of Conservation (DOC) and the McHenry Co. Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) prepared a prairie restoration plan for the site. It was planted in June 1986 with seeds from five sources in Illinois and Wisconsin. Most seed was purchased and some was donated by the DOC and SWCD. Grasses were planted with a broadcast spreader at 12.5 lbs/acre--switch grass, Indian grass, little bluestem, big bluestem, side oats and Canadian wild rye. Forbs were hand sown at a rate of 2 lbs/acre, from a purchased mix of 50-60 species. In retrospect, more of the costly forb mix should have been used, perhaps 6-8 lbs./acre. Total planting cost was $3,600 with the use of about 90% native plants; a "purist" approach would have been closer to $10,000.

Site maintenance also began in 1986, with the hand removal of bull thistles and other non-natives and an August mowing for weed control. Another mowing for weeds was necessary in 1987. Permitted controlled burns began in the third season, with the supervision of the local fire department. Modine employees provide the labor for the project and have gotten interested in Illinois's native landscapes. There was starting to be interest from the public in access to the interesting site. Additional species (34) were spot planted in 1988 and about 100 additional plants were put in during 1989, traded from another local restoration site. Burning continues about every other year. An additional 4 acres was planted in prairie in 1990 at a cost of $650/acre; establishment was slowed by hot, dry weather.

Modine employees began manual prairie seed collection in 1989 and have since provided seeds to the SWCD for use at about 10 other restoration sites. Also in 1989 hawthorn and buckthorn removal begun in the wooded area next to the prairie to restore the oak savannah, with more major work in 1993.

A number of lessons were learned from the Modine Prairie. One person and one organization can make a difference in conservation. While native landscaping is not yet "mainstream" those who are involved are passionate and helpful to others . Don't expect quick results, but be persistent. If you plant for wildlife it comes--the site is rich in birds, pheasants, fox and deer. Modine has been able to share its conservation site with its employees and with the community.

School Case Studies back to top

Students at Amundsen High School participates in landscaping projectAmundsen High School, a Chicago public school located at 5110 N. Damen, is working towards a goal of reducing their lawn area by 50%. They are actively involved in projects including a prairie restoration, wildflower garden, butterfly/hummingbird garden, and the planting of trees and shrubs to provide habitats and feeding for wildlife. The native landscaping at the school currently encompasses about one acre of land including a fenced prairie restoration area that was first seeded three years ago. The prairie contains over 50 species including natives such as big bluestem, prairie dropseed, rattlesnake master, bee balm, and prairie roses. The area is currently managed by mowing, but Amundsen plans to develop a burn management program once the area becomes more established.

The work at Amundsen has been supported in part by the Chicago Department of the Environment and the Urban Greening Fund of the University of Illinois Corporative Extension Service. Students take part in the beneficial landscaping through growing plants from seed that they then transfer outside, weeding, pruning, mulching, collecting trash, building fences, posting signs, and providing other day-to-day maintenance. The students have developed a sense of ownership and pride for the landscaping work that they have put into the land around their school. Amundsen has received other positive reactions from the community including an award from the local gardening club. The biggest obstacles for the project have been damage to the area from dogs and neighborhood children, especially during the summer months. Overall, the beneficial landscaping at Amundsen is a huge success and their advice to others considering using native landscaping, is "just get planting".

For more information contact:

Jim Doyiakos
Amundsen High School
5110 N. Damen
Chicago, IL 60625-1397
Tel:  (312) 534-2320
Fax: (312) 534-2330


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