OPP Uses Cochran Bird Sanctuary as A Holding Site for Excess Construction Soil

The soil on the lawn in front of Paresky Commons comes from an unlikely source. The Office of the Physical Plant (OPP) has been stockpiling excess soil in the Cochran Bird Sanctuary from recent renovation projects around campus, and then reusing the soil where necessary. The Sanctuary is currently storing soil from both the renovations of Commons and the Addison Gallery of American Art. Michael Williams, Director of Facilities, said that stockpiling in the Sanctuary is an economic and ecological solution to residual soil from construction projects. “The Sanctuary is not a disposal site. It’s a holding site for ecological economical reasons,” said Williams. Williams said that OPP staff members consulted Thomas Cone, Warden of the Sanctuary and Instructor in Biology, before they began to use the Sanctuary as a soil stockpile. OPP conferred with Cone in order to determine the effects of storing soil in the Sanctuary. “We spoke to Tom Cone to ensure that we weren’t doing any long-term damage to the Sanctuary by storing dirt there,” said Williams. Cone gave permission to OPP after Williams told him no other options were available for the excess soil, and after OPP assured him that the solution was only temporary. “The area we are using in the Sanctuary was and is one of the open glades which we keep open for biodiversity. It will be returned to that function once the projects are complete next year,” said Williams. Jeremiah Hagler, Instructor in Biology, said that he opposes the use of the Sanctuary as a collection site for excess soil. “I have a philosophical problem with it,” he said. Hagler said that students taking Biology 580 for the past few years have studied the Sanctuary’s ecological plots, which may have been adversely affected by the excess soil placed there. “[OPP] is putting the dirt in an area that we set for the class,” said Hagler. “It’s supposed to be a bird sanctuary and a natural space for the community, so I don’t know why it is being used as a dumping ground.” According to OPP, the Sanctuary will benefit in the long term from stockpiling soil. Hagler said that increased attention to the bird sanctuary is the first step toward combating the new stockpiling measures. “This is the first step; hopefully, the community will take interest,” he said. Williams said that no areas were cleared specifically for the storage of the soil. Instead, OPP stored the soil in areas that had previously been cleared to maintain a varied habitat in the Sanctuary. Whether or not Thomas Cochran would approve of this new use of the land, which he originally donated to Phillips Academy in 1929, is a more controversial matter. Cone wrote in an email, “Certainly using the area to store piles of dirt was not in the mind of Thomas Cochran.” Ruth Quattlebaum, School Archivist, wrote in an email, “Stockpiling soil in the Sanctuary does not seem, to me, to be in line with Cochran’s wishes. The soil renders the sanctuary a dumping ground.” Although Williams admits that the stockpiles of soil are “not terribly attractive,” he maintains that it is better to store the soil in the Sanctuary than in other areas that OPP has used before. “We’ve had dirt piles in various places over the years. We try to balance where we do these things in order to balance our impact,” Williams continued. “The mission of the Sanctuary has changed and is very different now than it was at the Sanctuary’s origin,” said Williams. According to Williams, storing soil in the Sanctuary is also financially beneficial to the school, since the old stockpiles of soil can be re-used. Typically, OPP disposes of topsoil in a construction area, and then upon the construction’s completion, purchases a new layer of soil to fill in the site. With the stockpiles, however, the school does not need to purchase new soil. According to Williams, Phillips Academy has been storing soil in the Sanctuary for years. “It’s a good way to proceed by using on-site recycling,” he said. “Another environmental advantage of using our own soil is that we know the history of the soil that we have placed in the Sanctuary, [so] we know that it has been taken care of,” Williams continued. By reusing soil, the Office of the Physical Plant can ensure the soil’s origin and guarantee that the grass growing from the area will blend in with other grass on campus.