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Seattle University

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Sustainable Solution

Written by Mike Thee
October 11, 2011

The rain came…and came…and came some more.  

It was December 2006, and when all was said and done, 2.5 inches were dumped on Seattle in the span of 24 short hours. The windstorm inflicted significant damage on SU’s campus, particularly the northern edge as the basements of Lynn, Hunthausen, Xavier and the Chapel of St. Ignatius flooded with storm water. After bailing out the buildings, the university turned its attention to preventing similar flooding in the future.  

Two options roughly equal in cost emerged. The university could build an underground storage tank, which was more of the mainstream approach. Or, it could do something a little different to not only solve the problem but also advance the university’s leadership in sustainability: create an eco-friendly rain garden outside the 1103 East Madison Building. 

The university would opt for the latter, and last week the rain garden was dedicated and named for its advocate and driving force, Lee Miley.   

For Miley, who retired last year as assistant director of maintenance after a stellar 20-year career at SU, the importance of the moment is not lost on him. “It’s wonderful,” he said, when The Commons reached him by phone two days before the dedication. “I’m really honored and feel like a first-prize winner. It’s spectacular.” 

 

  
Lee Miley, left, visits with President Stephen Sundborg, S.J., before the Oct. 6 dedication of the rain garden that now bears Miley's name. 

The Lee Miley Rain Garden functions as a gigantic sponge absorbing rainwater runoff from impervious areas like roofs, driveways, walkways and compacted lawn. Its 10-foot-deep planted depression is lined with a special fabric and perforated drainage system, and filled with a soil mixture designed to retain as much water as possible. As storm water passes through layers of soil and gravel, the plants filter out the pollutants. Two trenches on the west wall of Lynn route water away from the building—one fills the garden and the other diverts water from the building’s foundation and flows directly into the City’s combined sewer overflow system. By design, the garden is also a hospitable destination for wildlife. 

 

“Lee Miley put the rain garden together long before it was in the vocabulary of people trying to capture storm water,” said Steve Szablya, director of maintenance and operations. “It’s innovations like these that Lee championed to keep SU Facilities always on the leading edge of sustainability.” 

Indeed, the rain garden is one example of Miley’s many efforts to reduce the university’s carbon footprint while improving operations and saving some money along the way. He received the Staff Leadership Award in 2009 in recognition of his contributions to the university. 

Never one to toot his own horn, Miley downplayed his visionary solution for SU’s flooding problems. Of the rain garden, he said, “It just seemed to be the best way to go.” 

There were tense moments, to be sure, he acknowledged, particularly when the rain garden confronted its first big test soon after being completed in 2007. By that time, the 1103 East Madison Building’s basement had been outfitted with a new state-of-the-art multimedia lab, which only raised the stakes. And so, as another major storm descended on the region that November, Miley held his breath. 

The rain garden did its job. It held the water and the basements stayed dry. Miley was relieved and imagines others were, too. “I would think SU’s insurance company was pretty happy,” he joked. 

Retirement is treating Miley well. He’s receiving dialysis treatment three days a week, “but the other days are great,” he said. “I’d recommend people get enough money saved up to retire as early as possible. You’ll have a great time.”