The Steel Yard

LID Type: Bioswale, Permeable Pavement

Use: Commercial

Installer: Catalano Construction, Inc.

Designer/Developer: Klopfer Martin Design Group (Landscape Architect) and Morris Beacon Design (Civil Engineer)

Install Date: 2010

Address: 27 Sims Avenue

Town: Providence

Zip Code: 02909

County: Providence


Jonathan Ford, PE

Principal, Morris Beacon Design


The Steel Yard is a Providence nonprofit organization housing artist studios, facilitating instruction in metal, ceramic, and glass arts, and providing a home for a diverse arts community that offers different venues for showing and making art. In 2003, Klopfer Martin Design Group (KMDG) was commissioned to transform Providence Steel, formerly a disused steel fabrication facility near the center of Providence, via the implementation of an innovatively designed master plan. Construction at the 3.5 acre site was completed in the fall of 2010 with assistance in $600,000 of EPA grants for what was considered a brownfield remediation project.

The Steel Yard’s ambitious site transformation provides active and passive open spaces, outdoor work areas, and new parking along with updated pedestrian and vehicular circulation patterns. The landscape and drainage systems are woven into the site to minimize contaminated soil export while also naturally filtering and infiltrating stormwater to reduce runoff to Providence’s combined sewer system. Through a system of “stormwater moats” (bioretention swales) and permeable pavements, the Steel Yard functions to capture, transport, store, and ultimately infiltrate 90% of the annual rainfall on site. The moats were planted with water-loving species not only to filter stormwater and prevent erosion, but also to establish vegetation across the site in areas not conflicting with events or fabrication.

Prior to the site’s transformation, the Steel Yard faced a major hurdle in its development. The project was located on a contaminated site that was estimated at $1.2 million to remediate. However, being a nonprofit allowed the owners of the Steel Yard to secure a total of $600,000 in brownfield redevelopment funds from the Environmental Protection Agency in 2007. This was enough to get the ball rolling, although it took nearly two years to receive the necessary permits due to competing concerns of the RI DEM, CRMC, and Narragansett Bay Commission over a perceived conflict in the design, which proposed keeping the lead-contaminated soil on site, a choice that was far cheaper and more philosophically acceptable to the designers than just dumping it in someone else’s backyard. As a result, the remaining toxic soil was treated with a binder and capped with 12 inches of clean fill, a solution that met the DEM’s capping requirements.

The impact of conserving green open space for stormwater management over traditional site design approaches significantly reduced project costs (a savings of at least 10%). The permitting agencies were pushing for the designers to use an underground stormwater storage system rather than infiltrate. However, the cost of this strategy was estimated at a number that exceeded the budget for the entire project, thus making it unfeasible. Ultimately, the agencies relented and agreed with KMDG’s infiltration strategy that met the DEM and Narragansett Bay Commission’s stormwater goals and brownfield infiltration requirements.

According to Congressman and former Mayor David Cicilline, the Steel Yard has helped change the way Providence sees development, including embedding lessons learned from the project in the city’s comprehensive plan, thus impacting Providence’s future development process. Klopfer Martin Design Group also received a 2011 Award of Honor from the American Society of Landscape Architects for the Steel Yard’s innovative design.

Address: 27 Sims Avenue, Providence, 02909