We’re proud to recognize World Landscape Architecture Month through the American Society of Landscape Architects to celebrate the vital role this discipline plays in shaping healthy, resilient and beautiful places for the communities we serve. We sat down with Shira Elder, PLA and asked her about her role, its impact on design and a surprise she had along the way.
Q: How would you describe your day-to-day role as a site designer?
A: It’s all about coordination. So much of what we do is coordinate between the different design disciplines, the consultants and the authorities having jurisdiction. I’m like a Border Collie; I’m a herder. My job is to chase everyone, keep everything going and move it along. There are so many permits, from a Nationwide Permit for wetlands from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to traffic impact studies and signoffs from county officials. There’s just a huge amount of scheduling and permitting. We often have to get involved with easements, dedicating roadway easements and waterline easements. When the project covers many jurisdictions, it becomes all-encompassing on the site designer.
Q: How does your work impact design?
A: I am the architect outside. I create art and science spaces for people, it’s just outside the building. We work closely with civil engineers and architects to ensure the site functions properly, such as where the building is situated on a site to maximize pick-up and drop-off efficiency—how we can get people in and out and turned around. Working together with them influences how the building takes shape. We need to do a traffic impact study; we have to have an environmental site assessment to see if there are contaminants on the site. We get a surveyor out there and do soil boring to find out if there are any issues with the foundation of where we want to put the building. Those are all part of our early steps. Traffic impact studies can change the design because of backup that was predicted on the roadway. Such as at Southwest Licking Local Schools, they didn’t want us coming in right off the roadway and queuing for drop-off, and so we moved everything further into the site so that there would be less backup. We also extended the parent drop-off down so that they would have longer length on the interior of the site and not be backing up onto the roadway.
Q: What is a recent challenge you’ve had and how did you overcome it?
A: In 2018, at the new Southwest Licking Watkins Intermediate and High School site, there were wetlands, so we had to work with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and OEPA to complete a Cultural Resource study, including researching archeologic sites on the property. As a result, hundreds of artifacts were found and cataloged, including a prehistoric 10,000-year-old scraper tool! We then had to go to a Phase 2 study on the site, which required additional hand digging and tilling, and more people had to come out and assess the grounds and methods used, which definitely impacted our schedule. With the report written and all items catalogued, we then had to meet with the State Historic Preservation Office on discussions of how the artifacts will be cleaned, if the artifacts will be donated to Ohio History Connection, or if they’ll be used by the school to display. There were many different items found on the site; there were a lot of flint pieces since the site sits on a trail to Flint Ridge (Flint Ridge Quarries & Nature Preserve), there were pottery pieces, horseshoes, and the old homestead outhouse had all the archeologists excited! The thing that triggered our Cultural Resource in-depth study was during the installation of a powerline that goes through the site; someone found some interesting artifacts there, and SHPO said we think you need to look a little harder. We had 30+ people in meetings with SHPO, including our consultants, the school, the lawyers, Ohio Facilities Construction Commission, which is a co-owner, and several GM folks . It was very time-consuming but an interesting process.