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Apr 18, 2012 8:00 PM

UA students using new ideas to save Old Main

TUCSON - Students at the University of Arizona are using new ideas to save a campus landmark.

They're learning to conserve water and preserve history by channeling rain run-off away from existing structures.

Their first major challenge was to save Old Main, The 121-year-old brick building in the center of campus.

After more than a century of rain, run-off was eroding the foundation. Old Main was sinking, and at risk of crumbling.

"The water now is accumulating right at the base of the building and this post over here is a foot lower than this post over there," said Associate Professor James Riley as he pointed out the water damage.

Drainage pipes channel the rain from the rooftop right down to the foundation, under-cutting the building and wasting water.

Riley teaches a water harvesting class. His students work with university staff to design and develop ways to move the water away from the buildings and use it to water the plants.

The students spend half of their class time indoors planning and designing, and half their time outside moving rocks and digging trenches.

"The students are broken into teams and they're looking at five other sites on the campus that could have potential for water harvesting," Riley said.

Some are preparing for careers in water harvesting, others use their newfound skills at home, but all can be proud of what they've already accomplished.

Part of the plan is to have their work go unnoticed by students and faculty. The idea is to reroute the water without creating deep reservoirs, or dramatically changing the landscape.

It's not just about aesthetics; it's also about saving the oldest building on campus.

"The students could come back in 10 years, when they're alumni, and say ‘Well, I did my part to help save Old Main,'" Riley said.

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