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Central High School

Beautifying Campus and Protecting the River

Saint Paul’s Central High School is Minnesota’s oldest high school and celebrated its 150th year in 2016. Since 2011, students, parents, staff, and community members have been working to improve the attractiveness of this Saint Paul Public Schools landmark. In 2012, a parent group called the Transforming Central Committee invited Capitol Region Watershed District (CRWD) to develop conceptual designs to collect and filter rainwater on site.

The Challenge

Constructed in 1912 and heavily remodeled in the 1970s, Central High School was not designed with stormwater management in mind. The site is primarily impervious surfaces, including a large roof and concrete plaza.

Central High School Principal Mary Mackabee (principal 1993-2019) cuts the ribbon for the grand opening of the rain gardens.

“When the Committee formed in 2011, their initial goal was to improve the campus. After contacting CRWD to help with stormwater management, they realized that the project would go beyond aesthetics and provide a unique learning opportunity for students.” – Jessica Bromelkamp, Communications and Engagement Division Manager, CRWD

The Solution

CRWD staff worked closely with Saint Paul Public Schools and the Transforming Central Committee to develop designs for collecting and filtering rainwater while improving aesthetics. With a CRWD grant award of $252,350 and $175,000 from the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources through the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment, the original design grew to include four kinds of clean water practices:

  • Rain gardens
  • Tree trenches
  • Underground filtration system
  • Porous pavers

As part of the project, CRWD worked with Central High School teachers to identify opportunities for student learning. This resulted in project signage and water monitoring equipment – including monitoring wells for students to collect samples and test water quality – being added to the campus.


Stormwater improvements at Central High School have prepared the campus for a more sustainable future. In addition to treating surface-flowing runoff, the rain gardens, tree trenches, and other best management practices also capture and filter runoff from a portion of the roof and a parking lot before it flows into the storm sewer and eventually the Mississippi River. Together, these projects will prevent more than 1.4 million gallons of untreated stormwater runoff from reaching the river each year. The project also includes monitoring equipment so students at Central can learn more about how urban stormwater treatment and monitoring works.


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