Washougal School District, City partner with nonprofit to fix WHS parking lot

Lower Columbia Estuary Partnership project will add stormwater features to treat runoff from Washoual High School’s roof, parking areas

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Nearby trees are reflected in a puddle covering multiple spaces in Washougal High School's student parking lot on Monday, Oct. 9, 2023. (Doug Flanagan/Post-Record)

Washougal’s younger drivers are presented with challenges on rainy days by Washougal High School’s student parking lot, which is old, run down and susceptible to flooding.

“The parking lot isn’t draining correctly,” Washougal High student Abraham White said earlier this year, “and a bunch of parking spots aren’t usable when it rains because a huge puddle forms.”

To fix the problem, the Washougal School District is teaming up with the city of Washougal and the Portland-based Lower Columbia Estuary Partnership, which announced last month that it has launched a project to add “stormwater features” to the Washougal High parking lot.

“(We’re planning to) treat runoff from a portion of the high school’s roof and the entirety of the parking lot at the high school, as well as some of the surrounding neighborhood streets,” said Chris Collins, restoration program lead for the LCEP, a Portland-based environmental protection nonprofit coalition of public and private groups. “Our new stormwater facilities will capture the runoff from about eight acres of impervious area and treat it before it enters Campen Creek and flows down into Gibbons Creek and Steigerwald (National Wildlife Refuge).”

The city of Washougal has received a grant from the Washington Department of Ecology’s Stormwater Financial Assistance Program (SFAP) for the project’s design work. The LCEP will manage the project, with assistance from the City and the Washougal School District.

“The City and the Estuary Partnership have worked collaboratively together on many projects,” said Chris Hathaway, LCEP’s community programs director, “and we are excited to continue that partnership on an impactful stormwater project within the Campen Creek watershed to benefit the Washougal community, the high school and Steigerwald Lake National Wildlife Refuge.”

The City will receive nearly $350,000 from the SFAP, according to Hathaway, who added that the Estuary Partnership will provide between $20,000 and $61,000 for the project’s required matching funds.

Hathaway said that the project is expected to kick off within the next two months.

“The design and engineering work, as well as survey, Geotech, etc., will likely take 18 to 24 months,” Hathaway added. “We would hope to apply for Ecology construction funding in the fall of 2025. If we were to receive funding, construction would take place in 2026 or 2027.”

Schatz said she hopes the project will incorporate input from students, who last spring created proposals to provide LCEP and city of Washougal employees with their perspectives on the future of the parking lot.

“I’m working on putting the different slideshows and drawings that the students created into Google Drive so that I can then share with different people who are responsible for making those decisions,” Schatz said. “That way, (the decision-makers) can see what the students are looking for. I’m hoping to have that done by the end of the semester.”

The LCEP “definitely hopes to be able to engage the high school students in the project,” Hathaway said.

“I can’t (say) their specific designs will be included — I haven’t even seen them yet, and Ecology has serious rule/requirements guidelines of what they will fund,” he said. “But that’s the goal of doing this kind of stormwater work at schools, to engage teachers and students and parents in the work and to create learning and engagement opportunities around the projects.”

The Washougal School District will make an “in-kind contribution of the parking lot and stormwater facility space,” but will not have to set aside any money for the project, according to Les Brown, the district’s director of communications and technology.

“We are excited to partner with the LCEP and city of Washougal on this project, and appreciate the work they’ve done to include students in the process,” Brown said. “These opportunities provide students with meaningful hands-on experience applying the concepts they learn in our classes in real-world situations.”

Schatz said once the LCEP, which recently launched a restoration project at Mable Kerr Park near Washougal High, brought the stormwater issues to the district’s attention earlier this year, she began thinking about ways to get her students involved.

“(LCEP) created these super awesome blueprints, and they did a whole bunch of analysis on the parking lot, looking at where the water was flowing and the different slopes,” Schatz said. “My students were actually able to use the work that they did to help them create their design proposals.”

About 100 engineering students from two classes, taught by Schatz and Jason Blaesing, started working on the project earlier this year. Working in small groups, they created about 20 different proposals, according to Schatz, who added that while all of the proposals differed slightly, “some big themes” emerged.

“A lot of the proposals were talking about pedestrian safety — that was a big focus for them. (They suggested) simple changes, like adding crosswalk strips so that it was clear that pedestrians are walking here in the parking lot,” she said. “Also, a lot of them included bioswales or rain gardens, places for the water to go when it does rain, as well as adding in a beautification factor. A lot of them talked about how, if we added trees and plants, that would make the parking lot a more fun place for them to be, and it would also make it so when the sun’s out, they could be in the shade, potentially, under a tree, years down the line.”

Schatz and Blaesing asked their students to consider a multitude of variables while creating their proposals.

“(We asked them) if they were to redo the parking lot, how would they redo it?” she said. “(We asked them to think) about how they would manage stormwater, and also, how they could potentially add more parking spaces when it becomes overcrowded? Where are the handicap spaces? Are they in a good spot? Could we move them somewhere that might be a little bit easier for people? A lot of different ideas went into it.”

Kyle Rogers, an architect and internship program director for LSW Architects in Vancouver, visited the classrooms to talk with students about their proposals, which impressed Shatz.

“I was definitely in awe,” Shatz said. “When you give students the opportunity, they’re really creative, and they’re incredible problem solvers. One thing that they told me is that when it’s nighttime and/or super early in the morning, the lot (isn’t very well-lit). They’re like, ‘I would like to have more lights in the parking lot.’ I was focused on what we were doing with the water runoff, but they were also like, ‘Yeah, we’re talking about water runoff, but this is something else that we see happening, or we don’t see, and this is something that we could see work towards improvement.’”

“I know that project is the most engaged the students were, and I totally understand why,” Schatz added. “They were really excited about it. I think part of it is they got to see how what they were learning really works in the world outside of school. They also got to learn that people care about what students have to say, and student voice is really important.”

The project exposed the students to real world applications for classroom work, according to the district.

“That’s something that I’ve learned from teaching CTE courses, always trying to find those connections to community and connections to real-world problems,” Schatz said. “I know that that’s something that we really try to do well at the high school — try to find those connections. It was a lot of taking things that we’ve learned throughout the class, and then applying it to this real-world problem.”