Maintaining the Wall a team effort

The Bio Wall is just one of the many outstanding features of the University of Lethbridge's new Alberta Water and Environmental Science Building but it may be its most distinguishable.

The structure is approximately 12 metres (three stories) tall and four metres wide, featuring a wide array of plants that literally grow out of the wall. The look and feel of the Bio Wall is both stunning and calming. The trick is keeping the plants healthy and that includes a combination of modern technology and human ingenuity.

Technologically, the patented Natureaire system developed by Alan Darlington of the University of Guelph, is what keeps the plants hydrated. The wall itself consists of common house plants, such as the rubber fig, the peace lily and umbrella plants, which are placed into slits in the first layer of a two layer wall comprised of porous synthetic material of loosely woven plastic. Over time, the roots of the plants will grow down through the layers and become enmeshed with the material. Water, occasionally infused with nutrients, is pumped to the top of the wall (with the use of six fans) and trickles down through the layers to the plant roots.

But what happens when a plant needs maintenance and just how do workers get to them? Enter the grounds crew, with a little assistance from Sport and Recreation Services, and specifically, Scott Whiteside and his climbing wall staff. They helped instruct Vern Leckie's grounds crew in the Facilities department, about six in total, on basic climbing technique so that they could repel down the wall and provide maintenance to the plants.

Under the supervision of a climbing wall staffer, one member of the grounds crew, which to date has meant Tyler Fallwell, repels down the wall, pulling out old and dying material and replacing it with new flora supplied by Lethbridge's Touch of Green plant shop. The operation is carried out monthly and keeps the Bio Wall looking its best and functioning well.

The benefits of the Bio Wall are more than visual, they also include the breakdown of indoor air pollutants, such as volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from common building materials and electronics, which can cause 'sick-building syndrome.'

The Bio Wall also offers increased humidity in addition to the associated psychological and aesthetic benefits.