Mutually beneficial

Author: James Wensits

The Potawatomi Park greenhouses east of downtown South Bend house a perfect example of the burgeoning partnership between Notre Dame and the city of South Bend.

Inside the greenhouses are several research computers owned by the University, doing routine grunt work on command from campus bosses located a mile or so away. The location of the computers solves two problems: The heat they give off helps warm the greenhouses, saving the city money in energy bills. It also saves money for Notre Dame, which no longer has to pay to cool a computer room on campus.

Thanks to the Metronet, the city’s fiber-optic cable network, the campus-greenhouse connection works to perfection. “The computers don’t know whether they’re at the greenhouses or on campus, the connection is so quick,” says South Bend Mayor Stephen Luecke.

Locating the computers at the greenhouses was pure happenstance, says Luecke, who recalled that the wife of a city council member and a neighbor who works with the campus computers were talking one day and realized they could solve their problems by helping each other.

The mayor believes a miniature monitoring system developed on campus will help the city to eventually solve an even bigger problem, and save a lot of money in the process. The state requires South Bend to reduce overflow from its sewer system into the St. Joseph River. Normally, the city’s sewer system can handle all the effluent from its homes and businesses and send it to the wastewater treatment plant for processing. The treatment plant is so efficient that the water it eventually discharges into the river is cleaner than the river water itself.

When a downpour drenches the city, however, the influx of stormwater flows into the drains and out again at various overflow points, carrying both rainwater and effluent into the river.

One way to alleviate the problem would be to build 100-million-gallon storage tanks that could hold the overflow until the storm passes, then slowly discharge the effluent-water mix through the treatment plant.

Another is to utilize the more than 500 miles of sewer system as a kind of storage facility. Rainstorms may drop huge amounts of water on one part of the city while other parts are relatively dry. The credit card-sized monitors developed by Notre Dame will be able to provide real-time data about the amount of water flowing through any given section of the sewer lines and then activate valves that can close off sections of the sewer. Water flooding into one section can be forced to back into another, accumulating until the storm passes and the water can again be sent to the treatment plant.

Such a system can’t hold all of the water from a major storm, but Luecke believes the technology will allow the city to build smaller storage tanks, around 80 million gallons perhaps, and ultimately save the city tens of millions of dollars in construction costs.

Luecke, who has held his office longer than any previous South Bend mayor, has nothing but praise for Rev. Edward Malloy’s dedication to more tightly connecting Notre Dame and the community.

During Malloy’s presidency at ND, Luecke says, he forged an economic partnership with the city which is based on the premise that the futures of the Notre Dame and the city are intertwined. “It really has gone to a whole new level now,” says Luecke, whose downtown offices atop the 14-story County-City Building offer a view of the gleaming golden dome of the University’s main building as a distinct part of the skyline. Luecke says the partnership continues to be maintained under the guidance of Rev. John Jenkins, CSC, the current president.

The most visible evidence of this transformation may be the retail district known as Eddy Street Commons, located just south of the campus in an area once known more for crime and rundown housing than for being a destination that attracts students and community residents alike to its shops and restaurants.

As important as Eddy Street Commons may be, the new socioeconomic relationship between campus and city is epitomized by the creation of the Near Northeast Revitalization Organization (NNRO), a partnership consisting of residents in the neighborhood and six sponsors, Notre Dame, the city of South Bend, Memorial Hospital, Madison Center, South Bend Clinic and St. Joseph Regional Medical Center. Each of the sponsors pledged financial support for the NNRO, and the South Bend Heritage Foundation was brought in to provide staffing.

The NNRO developed the Eddy Street Commons concept, and the University took the idea to a developer to help bring it to fruition. Notre Dame was a key driver in the project, Luecke says, because it not only owned much of the property but had a stake in making sure the end product would be both attractive and an attraction.

In return for its efforts, “Notre Dame gets a thriving community that’s a good home to their students, to their faculty and to their staff,” he says.

The more the local economy improves, the better the community will be able to help the University to attract top faculty, staff and even students, the reasoning goes. That includes the likelihood that the spouses of those employees Notre Dame hopes to attract will be able to find good jobs once they move to South Bend, and that they will be able to live in safe, attractive neighborhoods and have access to quality schools.