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Virginia Tech Community Design Assistance Center receives EPA Brownfields Assessment grants

April 6, 2016

Two male college students and a woman gather around a landscape drawing in a conference room.
Melissa Philen (center) works on a conceptual design for a brownfield site in St. Paul with Austin Chase, a fourth-year landscape architecture major from Herndon, Virginia, and Michael Stelfox, a third-year landscape architecture major from Annapolis, Maryland.

In the United States, it is estimated that there are more than 450,000 brownfields. A brownfield site is real property, the expansion, redevelopment, or reuse of which may be complicated by the presence or potential presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant, or contaminant. The Community Design Assistance Center, an outreach center of the College of Architecture and Urban Studies, has been awarded a total of $400,000 in grants from the Environmental Protection Agency to assess sites in southwest Virginia and work with communities to develop conceptual plans for redevelopment of the sites.

Cleaning up these brownfields and reinvesting in contaminated properties can increase local tax bases, facilitate job growth, utilize existing infrastructure, take development pressures off of undeveloped, open land, and both improve and protect the environment.

Director Elizabeth Gilboy and Landscape Architecture Project Manager Melissa Philen are leading the assessment and planning efforts along with students from Virginia Tech's School of Architecture + Design

“There are many communities throughout southwest Virginia with potentially contaminated sites. The EPA grant gives us the opportunity to work with communities on redevelopment plans,” Gilboy said. “Having a vision for what those sites can become would be really helpful for communities to set them on a trajectory for improving the community and hopefully the economy.”

St. Paul, a small but vibrant town on the Clinch River in southwest Virginia,
 is set to be the pilot community for the program. There is at least one potentially contaminated site within the farmers market block there that will be assessed.  

The Community Design Assistance Center will work with project stakeholders and community members in St. Paul to develop a conceptual design that helps reduce storm water runoff from the site that is currently running to the Clinch River and endangering sensitive wildlife.

Over the course of the grant, CDAC plans to work with six to nine communities. Assessment of a site does not commit the community to clean-up.  

The Community Design Assistance Center of Virginia Tech was established in 1988 through a grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s Fund for the Improvement of Post-Secondary Education program. CDAC believes every community deserves quality design that promotes a healthy, sustainable way of life. They assist communities, civic groups, and nonprofit organizations in improving their natural and built environments through research, community engagement, and interdisciplinary design. 

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