From dump to destination: students look to transform Atlas landfill

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SEHS students and professor Patrick Robson (back left) meet with the city of Welland’s project manager James O’Neill (right) to layout strategies and ideas for the new park that will replace the Atlas landfill.

The opportunity to create a better view for tomorrow is right in their backyard.

Students and faculty from the School of Environment and Horticulture (SEHS) will enter the design process this semester on their Atlas Landfill Remediation Concept Plan, a year-long project where NC has partnered with Dillon Consulting and the City of Welland.

The Atlas landfill stands 220 metres above sea level and 40 metres above its surroundings, allowing for a 360 degree view of the Niagara Region, from the canal and Niagara Falls.

Once it reaches its lifespan in 2018, the landfill – located on Woodlawn Rd. – will be transformed into a public park, named Welland Vista Park. This is where NC students come in. Using classroom learning and creativity, the students will design the site’s landscaping and features to create an innovative green space, bringing some Eco-vibrancy to a former industrial town.

In a meeting held on Jan. 19, students and lead faculty member Patrick Robson met with James O’Neill, project manager, facilities at the City of Welland, to share ideas, discuss expectations and clear up concerns.

Robson, a professor in NC’s Ecological Restoration, and Environmental Management and Assessment (EMA) postgraduate programs, who also has years of municipal experience, approached the City to offer assistance and have students get involved in the project as a means of gaining valuable experience.

“This is a really exciting initiative – one that benefits Welland’s community building and engagement goals,” said Robson. “It’s fortifying our student learning outcomes while strengthening the respect and appreciation for Niagara College and our ability to help solve real world problems, literally in our own backyard.”

Since the project launched in June 2017, SEHS students have been hard at work in the classroom and community, working closely with the consulting firm and the city.

A resident survey was soon implemented to determine what locals wanted to be done with the site. The response was lukewarm, prompting students to showcase their engagement skills and put their noses to the grindstone by creating an active and multifaceted survey.

As part of their public relations and media relations course, a team of four students developed a public engagement program for the site’s key stakeholders. They conducted face-to-face surveys at the Welland Farmer’s Market and Float-fest, monitored social media for inquiries, and attended a public open house to gather interest.

“To step outside ‘theoretical’ project work and partake in an active project with the City of Welland and Dillon Consulting created an impactful learning experience,” said Kendall Wilson, one of the students that worked on the engagement program. “The collaboration benefited the student team by providing us with a platform to think creatively to increase community engagement and present our outcomes through technical writing and verbal presentations.

Students take their surveys to the streets, engaging Welland residents.

“The experience was tangible and will be useful in the future as I move forward into my career in environmental consulting.”
In two weeks, the students received 900 successful responses and their findings were summarized in a final concept design report. The report was brought to Dillon who presented the students’ vision to the City, which was unanimous in support of the concept.

“Partnering with a project that was currently underway truly enriched my experience in the class,” said Emily Chandler, a former student of the program who took part in the outreach component. “Instead of working on a hypothetical scenario, we were able to direct our efforts to increasing stakeholder engagement on a proposal that will impact the community.

“Not only did we far surpass our original goals for public input, I contributed to genuine, meaningful outreach which will serve as a best practice example for me in future projects.”

The project’s second phase will be conducted by four groups of students this semester who will each handle a unique task.
• EMA students will begin the background work for the site assessment as required by the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change.
• Two groups of students will form a final design, focusing on two pivotal aspects. One will create a naturalization design to attract wildlife and promote native species while the other develops a hydrology design which will manage storm water and potential run-offs.
• A second group of EMA students will conduct another public outreach campaign where they will test the public’s reactions to the designs.

The students working on the final leg of the project are Andrew Kurc, Adam Luke, Kerry Norman, Jordan Ramsay and Nicole Smith.

‘We are all very enthusiastic about working on the post-closure plans for the Atlas Landfill and partnering with the City of Welland,” they sad. “It’s an exciting project to be a part of and we’re looking forward to getting started.

“This will give us an excellent opportunity to apply the skills we’ve gained at Niagara College in a real-world setting.”

After their designs are complete, they will be submitted to the city for approval.

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