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UVa Builds Environmentally-Friendly "Learning Barge"

By: Myles Henderson Email
By: Myles Henderson Email

July 24th, 2009

A group of UVa students, alumni, and faculty are working on a project in Southeastern Virginia that is sure to create a few ripples in the water.

It's the summer time and a lot of UVa students are making there way towards to the beaches. A small group of UVa students are making their way to Chesapeake, Virginia, to build the UVa learning barge.

Project Director Phoebe Chrisman says, "It will be a floating environmental education center. A kind of working platform and field station, that will travel to many different sites along the Elizabeth River."

The barge project is a partnership between the UVa School of Architecture and The Elizabeth River Project, a non-profit group aimed at cleaning up the river through government, business and community partnership.

Since 2007, UVa students have been building the barge with the goal of environmental protection and sustainability.

Recent UVa alumni Danielle Willkens says, "We are using all sustainable systems. We have wind turbines on board, photovoltaic panels, and an evacuated tube solar hot water heating system."

In addition to using solar and wind power, there is also a rainwater collection system on board.

"In an on-board wetland, using native plants, we clean that water and return it to the river cleaner than when it fell from the sky," adds Chrisman.

Once completed, the Learning Barge will be a hands-on education center for students in Chesapeake, Norfolk, Portsmouth, and Virginia Beach. Students will not only learn about the Elizabeth River ecosystem, but also how we play a role and can make a difference.

"The Elizabeth is also one of the most degraded rivers on the east coast, so they will get to see some sediment remediation and restoration efforts first hand," says Willkens.

So far the Learning Barge is only about 3/4 of the way complete, but it's expected to be finished in just a few weeks, with the christening on September 14th.

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