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From the Field: Creating a Framework for Long-Term Performance Assessment

By Katie O’Neill, Master's of Arts in Food Studies Candidate, Chatham University

As a Research Assistant in LAF’s Case Study Investigation (CSI) program, I am working with Research Fellow Molly Mehling to conduct field research at Chatham University’s Eden Hall Campus. The 388-acre farm campus, nestled in the rolling hills north of Pittsburgh, is surrounded by various residential neighborhoods and schools in Pine Richland Township. The campus was previously utilized by H.J. Heinz Company as a retreat for female factory workers. Now Chatham University is turning this historic land into an eco-campus where classes for the School of Sustainability and the Environment will be held. With this state-of-the-art campus, Chatham hopes to provide students, faculty, staff, and community members with a living and learning environment where they can immerse themselves in a naturalized setting and learn sustainable concepts through first-hand experiences.

The case study that Molly and I are working on does not follow the typical CSI model. Our situation is unique because the landscape hasn’t been developed yet and is still in the design phase. Therefore, our main objective is to create a framework for long-term performance assessment and monitoring throughout the construction, post-construction, and maintenance phases of development.

Molly and I have spent hours traversing the overgrown trails of Eden Hall’s forest, assessing streams, ecosystem biodiversity, and gaining knowledge about the diverse ecosystems and landscapes of Chatham’s new campus. We successfully obtained a grant for a weather station, which will allow us to gather baseline climatic data. We are also assembling the various materials necessary for assessing and recording the environmental baseline data. We created a partnership with the Pittsburgh Aviary, who will come to our site and sample bird populations every two weeks starting in September. My master’s thesis project is also related to this case study, and I will assess the biodiversity of native pollinators at Eden Hall Campus and create a framework for future monitoring.

We are working to build a community of interested faculty and staff members who can continue the data collection and assessment over the 20+ year development span. Emphasizing collaboration between all invested parties has created an interesting dialogue between the academic side and practitioner side, and has opened doors on both ends for cooperative work into the future as Eden Hall Campus is developed. Our CSI work will continue into the upcoming academic year with another graduate student taking over through a work-study position. Through these new relationships with faculty, staff, student, and community members, we are confident that information will be gathered and utilized to monitor the social, economic, and environmental performance as Eden Hall Campus is transformed from the ground up into a sustainable campus.

Professor Molly Mehling and student Research Assistant Katie O’Neill are participating in LAF’s 2012 Case Study Investigation (CSI) program and conducting field research at Chatham’s new Eden Hall Campus in Gibsonia, Pennsylvania. Any opinions expressed in this article belong solely to the author. Their inclusion in this article does not reflect endorsement by LAF.

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