By Christian Loeffler
A large hole, a long channel, and several construction vehicles can be seen along the cornfields of campus and Brouwers Road, which may lead one to wonder – what exactly is going on?
A project to create a bike path that allows travel from Latrobe to Wimmerton is currently underway, according to Bob Clouse, professional engineer and overseer of the project.
The project, now about halfway complete, is in its second phase. It started back in 2018 and involved the path that currently goes from the roundabout on campus into Latrobe.
“The path is about six-foot wide; we are going to widen it out to ten [feet],” Clouse said. “It’s about 2,400 lineal feet of walking path that needs to be widened out.”
Clouse also stated that the project will be $200,000 worth of work.
“This project was financed in part by a grant from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Commonwealth Financing Authority,” Clouse stated, saying also that Ligonier Construction is doing the work on the site.
Clouse also indicated that, though not the main goal of the project, the draining away of water (called runoff) played a role in construction.
“[There were] drainage pipes that went underneath the trail and were completely plugged,” said Clouse, also stating that the three-foot deep channel being created along the path will lead into a pond, where water can be metered out on a slow basis.
“There will be people that probably won’t like the pond,” he stated.
Clouse said that the pond’s addition will remove some parking for those watching Steeler training, but that an area has been leveled to provide some better parking for Steeler fans as well as Bearcat tailgate parties.
Douglas Eppley, director of facilities, capital management, and planning, explained that water management rules and restrictions exist for new foundations, though old structures on campus are “grandfathered in.”
“You try not to flood your downstream neighbor, so you try to manage what you have coming off of your property before it gets to the next person’s property,” said Eppley.
Eppley explained that a common form of drainage involves water being collected through a wide pipe that leads to an “underground [containment] system.” Contained water is then released through a much thinner pipe to slow down exiting water.
Clouse stated that there is a pipe along the stadium benching at Chuck Noll Field that he recalls being six feet in diameter. He explained that the pipe was put in during the construction of Saint Benedict Hall. According to Eppley, there are “six-foot tall arch shape structures” under the ground between the library and the post office on campus made for water regulation.
Two rain gardens, depressed areas where rainwater collects to soak in the ground, can also currently be found outside between the library and the post office.
Eppley stated that there is special soil in both pits for the water to percolate through to “put water back into the ground instead of just dumping [the water] into a stream somewhere.” He also said that water-consuming plants will be added to the rain gardens in the spring.
While many methods of water control exist on campus, Eppley stated that “work in the cafeteria and the dining area” is being looked into.
Peter Smyntek, associate professor of interdisciplinary science, explained that runoff is precipitation “that is not able to infiltrate and then get absorbed into the ground.”
The “impermeable surfaces” such as asphalt, buildings, and roofs catch rain and need to transport the liquid somewhere, he said.
Smyntek stated that water is able to carry both pollutants that are dissolved into water and pollutants that float on the surface of water, such as oils, and said that acid mine drainage is a specific pollutant example relevant to campus.
Erosion can lead to issues beyond deconstruction of landscapes, such as sedimentation, he said.
“Sediments can cover the rocks that are habitat for fish, aquatic insects, [and] macroinvertebrates,” Smyntek stated. “The physical factors, the amount of water, and the flow rate of that [system’s] water is critical to the biology and the chemistry – it’s all linked.”