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Notre Dame to create new research facility in local park

Mary Kate Nelson | Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Notre Dame and St. Joseph County Parks launched a new partnership last week to create an environmental research and education facility at St. Patrick’s County Park.


Plans to build the Notre Dame Linked Experimental Ecosystem Facility (ND LEEF) at St. Patrick’s County Park were finalized Feb. 14.


According to a University press release, ND LEEF is part of a larger initiative at Notre Dame called the Environmental Change Initiative (ND-ECI). One of the goals of ND-ECI, the release stated, is to monitor the effects of climate change, land use and invasive species in different ecosystems — specifically water resources.


ND LEEF Director Jennifer Tank said the new facility will allow researchers and students to study these effects in stream, pond and wetland ecosystems, as well as on dry land. The facility will also feature advanced technology available to researchers.


“We can test the research we do in the field in a controlled environment,” Tank said.


The facility will use cutting-edge sensor technology so students and researchers can monitor experiments in real-time, the release stated.


Currently there is no room to build such a facility on Notre Dame’s campus, so ND LEEF will be located on 28 acres of land in St. Patrick’s County Park near the St. Joseph River, Tank said.


“It’s a beautiful area with quite a bit of land,” she said.


Conversations between the St. Joseph County Parks System and Notre Dame regarding the project began two years ago, Tank said.


ND LEEF will benefit various members of the community. The St. Joseph County Parks System plans to provide environmental education through ND LEEF to local K-12 students, adults continuing their education and nontraditional learners, she said.


Notre Dame will collaborate with the St. Joseph County Parks System to create appropriate curricula for these programs. The facility will also cater to visiting scientists and researchers from other academic institutions.


ND LEEF is still in the design and development stage, Tank said. She estimates the design will be finalized in April or May, with construction beginning in June. ND-EIC staff is working closely with faculty members of the Notre Dame College of Architecture to design the facility.


Tank estimates that construction may take four months to complete.


She said this new facility will be one of a kind.


“There are experimental facilities all over the country,” Tank said, “but no one has ever done one where you have all of the systems linked together. This makes it very different.”


Tank said she is excited for the project to begin.


“It’s totally new, totally innovative,” she said.