Blueprint, Green Thumb

Oct. 13, 2017
Green infrastructure training program invests in the city of Columbus, Ohio, & its residents

About the author: Lauren Baltas is associate editor for SWS. Baltas can be reached at [email protected] or 847.391.1019.

Green infrastructure is an investment, and as with any investment, the parties involved get out of it what they put into it. The city of Columbus, Ohio, is a great example. Its commitment to green infrastructure installations extends to a commitment to a workforce trained to maintain this investment. Enter Blueprint Columbus: Green Infrastructure Workforce Development Training Program. 

In 2014, then-mayor of Columbus Michael B. Coleman had a vision for a program that would help employ the city’s hard-to-employ, address poverty and unemployment, and create opportunities for small, women- or minority-owned startup businesses. Blueprint Columbus was born. The program installs green infrastructure in urban neighborhoods while meeting these goals. Specifically, the high-level objectives of Blueprint include:

  • Creating a successful, local green workforce development program;
  • Identifying and assisting the city in targeting appropriate hard-to-employ populations;
  • Addressing poverty and unemployment in underserved low-income populations;
  • Building a viable, replicable job training model for urban neighborhoods; and
  • Supporting development and growth of local, small, minority- and women-owned businesses. 

To hit the ground running, the city of Columbus worked with several partners that all play integral roles in the ongoing success of the program. T&M Associates is the prime contractor, Columbus Urban League contributes to the recruitment of students, Columbus State Community College and Williams Creek Consulting provide training, Regionomics LLC performed an economic impact analysis, and Simco Construction assisted with community outreach. While not an original partner, Alvis, a nonprofit providing re-entry treatment for the formerly incarcerated, also contributed to student recruitment. 

Regionomics’ economic analysis showed demand for green infrastructure training in the city of Columbus in order to care for the green infrastructure the city seeks to install in the coming years. Blueprint offered a solution that not only meets the needs of the city, but also provides opportunities for its residents. 

A Dynamic Classroom

In past classes, as the primary training provider, Columbus State Community College provided an ideal setting and necessary resources for the course. Past Blueprint courses consisted of 72 total hours of training, which was broken into four-hour increments three days per week for six weeks. Certain course terms were offered during the day, while others were offered on evenings and weekends in order to accommodate the schedules of interested students. 

Thanks to grant funding from the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, by the second course term, the course was offered at no cost to students. 

The course is a combination of both classroom training and field experience. In the classroom, students learn about topics including the hydrologic cycle, soil preparation, plant ecology, greenscape maintenance and hardscape fundamentals. Students also engage in a 10-hour Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Construction Safety Awareness training course. 

Outside the classroom, hands-on field training provides a unique opportunity for students to earn experience on a jobsite and apply classroom topics to actual projects. The students work on a variety of sites, depending on the course term.

The Sharon Meadows Constructed Wetland Project is one example of a Bluefield field trip with a lasting impact. Sharon Meadows Park is located on the site of a demolished school. The demolition left behind debris and poor drainage. Together, the volunteers and students planted approximately 3,800 plants and shrubs, transforming the location. 

“It was an opportunity for our students to apply their classroom knowledge—their newly learned skill sets—to transform a city of Columbus park that was plagued with flooding,” said Cynthia Jacobsen, regional client service manager for T&M Associates. “It really turned out to be quite a nice project.”

Students apply classroom topics to hands-on experiences in Columbus.

Outstanding Outcomes

Blueprint provides much more than green infrastructure training. It is a springboard for students to pursue opportunities they may not otherwise have had. Every student graduates with a certificate of completion that is recognized as past experience when bidding on city green infrastructure projects, as well as the OSHA safety credential that stays with each student for life. Thus far, four course terms have graduated a total of 60 students.

At the end of the course, Blueprint hosts a graduation ceremony for the students, and has even held a career fair. Many students have become employed by local landscaping companies, and some graduates mentor current students who are new to the program and the idea of green infrastructure. Business owners who have finished the training often hire other graduates, as well. 

“I’ve relied on the contacts I formed in the classes over the past several years,” said Jim Roberts, owner of Watershed Organic Lawn Care and graduate of the first Blueprint class. “What I found to be valuable about the [green infrastructure] program has less to do [with] what I learned or who I met; as a long time resident of Columbus, the program instilled a sense of pride in me that my city would invest resources to develop its workforce to be employed in this growing field.” 

One success story in particular stands out. A group of students referred by Alvis from the first graduating class started their own business—Nature’s Touch Landscaping & Lawn Care. The company describes itself as a “social enterprise, existing as a nonprofit partner to reach and teach those with barriers to employment, and offering sustainable, long-term employment and entrepreneurship in green infrastructure landscaping.” The company services approximately 30 properties. 

“It’s just amazing when people work together and try to do the right thing for the right reasons,” Jacobsen said. “In my 25 years of working, it’s the project that is most special in terms of feeling like you’re doing something to really help other people.”

About the Author

Lauren Baltas