South Orangetown Central School District

For the past few months, AP Environmental Science students at Tappan Zee High School have been working with expert mentors on a sustainable development project as part of Rockland PLUS (Planning Land Use with Students), a collaborative partnership of Columbia University Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, Keep Rockland Beautiful, Rockland Conservation & Service Corps, Rockland Economic Development Corporation and St. Thomas Aquinas College.

The annual program challenges local high school students to develop plans and designs that promote a balance of social connections, economic opportunity and environmental sensitivity for sites actively being considered for redevelopment in their own communities.

All AP Environmental Science students participated in this year’s program, generating four distinct development plans for a single site–a plot of land just off Route 303 in Blauvelt. The top two plans were presented at a county-wide symposium at St. Thomas Aquinas College today to local legislators, industry representatives and community organizations for feedback. As Rockland Economic Development Corporation President and CEO Jeremy Schulman explained, “We’re looking at an industrial site that needs to have its next life. What will it be?”

The TZHS plans focused on sustainable development with features such as a small, hydroponic organic farm and farm-to-table market and cafe, outdoor theatre and seating, walking trails and bike rental center for visitors to easily access Buttermilk Falls County Park. “I think you hit a homerun with this,” remarked Mat Mariconi, a mentor and Customer Energy Services Program Administrator for Orange & Rockland.

Mentors also urged students to consider mixed development projects and ways to attract businesses that could serve as substantive employment engines. “You want to ensure that people can stay in your community,” said Kathy Galione, the Youth Program Coordinator for Rockland County Conservation & Service Corps. “To do that, there need to be fair opportunities for housing, employment and childcare.”

Science teacher Brian Newburger says the experience has been meaningful for students: “They are applying what they are learning in class to the real world and it has given them a deeper understanding of how their own community deals with development.”

Students presenting land use plan to adult mentors