BGSU bringing research center to Sandusky water plant

Partnership aims to allow students to study Lake Erie at Big Island Water Works


BGSU Firelands enrolled into an innovative partnership with Sandusky’s government, establishing a hands-on, off-campus learning center for area students.

Students — taking classes at Bowling Green State University, BGSU Firelands or area school districts — can soon study Lake Erie’s ecosystem at Big Island Water Works, a sophisticated city-operated plant off First Avenue near the main entranceway to Cedar Point.

Necessary equipment, space and other resources, such as city employees, aim to help students conduct research and perform experiments revolving around the lake’s vitality.

Sandusky city commissioners made an official announcement during a recent public meeting.

“Integrating BGSU Firelands’ mission with Sandusky’s advances our region on economic, environmental, educational and scientific levels,” Sandusky ex officio mayor Dennis Murray Jr. said. “It is hard to imagine greater synergies at lower costs.”

In a statement to the Register, BGSU Firelands Dean Bill Balzer touted the project’s benefits:

“The proposed partnership will allow for the creation of a field research station on Lake Erie to expand the university’s commitment to basic and applied research that will help predict, understand and resolve challenges that threaten Lake Erie and other freshwater bodies throughout the world experiencing similar issues, including algal blooms, invasive fauna and invasive species,” Balzer wrote.

He continued: “The impact goes beyond water quality to include economic development and tourism in northern Ohio and beyond. Related programs in science education will also be explored to support (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education for the K-12 community as well as help educate all community members to become ‘citizen scientists’ who understand the symbolic relationship we have with the health of Lake Erie and its tributaries.”

For two years, college administrators and city officials worked on a plan to create a similar learning center at the underused Sandusky Bay Pavilion next to Battery Park Marina.

But complications with federal guidelines prevented BGSU Firelands from occupying this space.

Though Big Island Water Works presents more advantages than the pavilion does, Balzer wrote.

“Although both the pavilion and Big Island Water Works provide unique opportunities, the (water plant) offers pre-existing physical structures, which will enhance research opportunities and provide a more secure and comfortable environment for faculty and students,” Balzer wrote. “Moreover, the geographic location in proximity to the water treatment plant ensures that testing can be done directly at the intake source and where water quality is most critical to the health of the community.”

Several questions about the partnership remain unanswered, including:

• When students could begin studying at the water plant.

• How many students could participate in the program.

• How the program will be funded. It’s believed no local taxpayer funds from the city’s budget will directly be spent on any college-related initiatives at the water plant.

“We anticipate that it will integrate field experiences into traditional classroom learning for undergraduate students at both campuses, vastly expand on research opportunities for graduate students and create additional educational outreach opportunities in (various educational) areas for K-12 students throughout the (region),” Balzer wrote.”

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