- Associated Press - Saturday, May 20, 2017

BLACKSBURG, Va. (AP) - Energy harvested from foot traffic, lights that follow pedestrians at night and a draining system that will prevent flooding are just a few of the ideas that could alter the Drillfield at Virginia Tech.

A team of Tech students and faculty spent a year dreaming up a new vision for the centerpiece of campus.

The Drillfield is the iconic “heart” of campus, said Jack Rosenberger, Tech’s campus landscape architect. The oval-shaped field has been the site of cadet maneuvers, displays of campus pride and demonstrations since 1894, according to Tech’s history of the field on its website. Paths were first paved on campus in the 1970s.

Pieces of a new dream, known as the smART Field research project, may become a reality as the university continues to shape the Drillfield Master Plan.

The team of faculty and students from the College of Architecture and Urban Studies as well as the College of Engineering came up with the ideas for smART Field. Members of the team displayed pieces of their work Monday at ICAT Creativity and Innovation Day, an event that promoted a variety of creative art and technology projects by Tech community members at the Moss Arts Center.

“We had a lot of people with a lot of different backgrounds,” said Josh Treadway, a graduate student in architecture.

Treadway said the team put together interesting ideas that combined specialties. For example, architecture students and faculty worked diligently on creating attractive lighting along the paths. A demo at ICAT Day revealed lights with motion sensors that will follow pedestrians as they walk. Engineering team members independently designed pressure plates that will harvest power from footsteps, helping to power some lighting in around the Drillfield.

One piece that will be altered will be the material on the paths that crisscross the field. The smART Field team proposed using porous concrete raised over a deep bed of gravel. That system could help immensely with draining water that can pool on the Drillfield because of its bowl shape.

The porous concrete allows gallons and gallons of water to pass through and rest in the gravel bed. In a demonstration by architecture students Leira Carreon and Rachael Skolnekovich, people could dump water on the concrete and it would pass straight through to a tub below.

A sample of porous concrete will likely be tested somewhere on campus this fall.

Wi-Fi will also be added to so-called “trail heads,” which will be access points to the paths around the Drillfield. The trailheads will potentially feature the energy harvesting plates that will collect energy from footsteps measuring path usage by students around the Drillfield.

At night, the team has proposed motion sensor lights along the paths that will follow folks as they move across the field.

In 15 years at Tech, this is the first time architecture professor Margarita McGrath said she’s been invited to take part in a project of this magnitude shaping campus.

Members of the team were told to think outside the box, McGrath said.

The plan’s goal “is to preserve the beauty of the area while making it a more usable space,” according to a statement of the plan on Tech’s website.

“Innovation is key,” the campus architect Rosenberger said.

According to Rosenberger, university officials want a new look for the Drillfield - which has been in its current form since 1934.

In the past, paths on the Drillfield were shaped by “desire lines” or the places where students walked, Rosenberger said. But other than those paths, the April 16 Memorial and some other cosmetic changes, not much has been done to improve the amenities on the Drillfield until now.

Students and faculty answered the call by spending about a year on the project and they’ve come up with some innovative ways to improve the Drillfield. Even though the plan is conceptual now, Rosenberger is hopeful changes will be made soon.

Though at this point, without anything such as funding or the ultimate cost of the facelift determined, a timeline hasn’t been established.

For the students who worked on the team, the opportunity was just a cool way to literally leave their mark on campus, said Carreon, a fourth-year architecture student in the five-year program.

“It’s really exciting because we get to change something about Virginia Tech that’s so important and make it better,” she said.

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