Fascinating green roof project under way in Springville; you can help

Green roof diagram from Springville Center for Arts in Springville NY
People will be able to access the green roof of the Springville Center for the Arts by stairs or elevator. Image courtesy Springville Center for the Arts

by Connie Oswald Stofko

The Springville Center for the Arts is seeking volunteers to start seedlings for its green roof project.

You’ll get seeds that you are asked to start in containers and nurture until they’re ready to be transplanted onto the green roof. You don’t have to live in Springville to participate.

In addition to the seedling program, volunteers are needed for the installation of the green roof on the building that the arts center is rehabilitating at  5 East Main St., Springville.

Most of the components are tentatively scheduled to be hoisted to the roof on April 25 with plantings to occur in May. The main installation requires a great deal of coordination and several teams working together. A green roof certification workshop will be held in advance.

To sign up either for planting seeds or for the installation, contact Seth Wochensky, executive director at the Springville Center for the Arts, at 592-9038 or scaseth@gmail.com.

What is a green roof?

Sometimes called a living roof, a green roof is basically a roof that is designed to have plants growing on it.

The Springville project eventually will be accessible to the public and will grow vegetables, flowers and even shrubs.

There are many advantages to green roofs, Wochensky said. One benefit is that it decreases storm water runoff, which can help keep our river and lake water clean. Like rain barrels and rain gardens, green roofs can hold rain water in place, which helps to prevent our combined storm water and sewage water system from becoming overwhelmed during heavy rain.

wide view of block from Springville Center for the Arts
The center building with the blue windows is the one that will be rehabilitated and used as a new arts space. The rehab of that building also makes the adjacent buildings sturdier because they share common walls. Photo courtesy Springville Center for the Arts

In Toronto, they found that it was cheaper to give people incentives to build green roofs than it was to fix the storm sewer system, Wochensky said.

Green roofs also reduce the cooling load of a building because water evaporating from the plants on the roof helps to cool the building.

Green roofs also reduce the urban heat island effect, where built-up areas are hotter than nearby rural areas. That can affect even a small village like Springville, Wochensky said, because the village is filled with buildings, streets, sidewalks and parking lots that can absorb and retain heat.

Chicago  suffered badly from the heat island effect and is a big player when it comes to green roofs. Its most famous green roof is on its City Hall, but Chicago’s Millenium Park, at 25 acres, is the largest green roof in the world. It covers underground parking garages and other structures, and festivals are held on the green roof. See a video here.

Green roofs can also extend the lifespan of the roof. Roofs can get as hot as 180 Fahrenheit, Wochensky said, which can help to deteriorate the roof. The green roof protects the building’s roof from extremes in heat and cold as well as from ultraviolet rays.

“Do the math on that alone,” Wochensky. “A green roof can pay for itself over the long haul.”

A green roof also provides habitat for insects, birds and other wildlife.

Why the Springville Arts Center wanted a green roof

In addition to all the practical advantages listed above, there’s one more reason why an arts center needs a green roof.

“It’s cool and exciting,” Wochensky said.

The arts center is rehabilitating the building at 5 East Main St., Springville, which will be used for small programs, such as open mike nights and comedy improv. Those smaller programs were hard to schedule in the main arts center, a former church down the block at 37 N. Buffalo St., when plays and other performances were under way.

The rehabbed building will have workshop space in the basement, a cafe on the first floor and artist spaces on the second floor.

Photo courtesy Springville Center for the Arts
Before rehabilitation began, the roof was actually in the basement. Photo courtesy Springville Center for the Arts

People will be able to get to the roof by stairway and elevator to maintain the garden and for activities, such as teaching children where food comes from.

To say that the green roof will be an improvement over what there was previously is an understatement– The roof was in the basement.

“The building was an absolute disaster,” Wochensky said, but he didn’t want the building to be torn down. “I couldn’t stand the thought of another gaping hole on Main Street.”

The building, circa 1880, shares walls with the buildings beside it. To demolish the building would have left the other buildings flimsy. By saving this building, it also helps to preserve the adjacent buildings, he said.

As a nonprofit, the Springville Center for the Arts was able to get grants and donations for the project. The building was acquired at the end of summer 2012. Construction work is continuing.

Variety of zones

The green roof will encompass 2,100 square feet. It is a demonstration garden and will have a variety of zones:

  • The least accessible areas will be planted with sedum and other plants that don’t need much watering or other care.
  • A meadow area will be a more free-form or wild garden.
  • A more orderly and traditional garden will feature raised beds planted with vegetables and herbs that could be used in the cafe.

The planting medium will range from 4 to 10 inches deep, so the roof garden will be able to include shrubs, such as raspberry, blueberry, chokeberry, abelia and roses (rosa rugosa), as well as bulbs. There will also be a northern hardy kiwi vine.

The meadow garden will change and evolve. Plants will go to seed and sprout in different places. Some plants will claim more territory while others may cover less ground in ensuing years.

Edible plants will be mixed in with ornamental plants. Plants for the meadow include:

  • Bachelor’s buttons
  • Penstemon
  • Hysop
  • Bell flower
  • Dianthus
  • Blue fescue
  • Iris
  • Daffodils
  • Snow crocus
  • Alpine squill
  • Oregano
  • Parsley
  • Garlic
  • Chives

“Chives are indestructible,” Wochensky said. “They’re a common green roof plant.”

The traditional garden will grow vegetables and herbs, but ornamental plants will be mixed in as well. Plants for the traditional garden will include:

  • Sage
  • Lovage
  • Savory
  • Bergamot
  • Bee balm
  • Calendula
  • Phlox
  • Poppies
  • Sweet pea
  • Blue flag (iris)
  • Delphinium
  • Coreopsis
  • Aster
  • Yarrow
  • Maltese cross
  • Dianthus
  • Galardia
  • Johnny jump-ups

“Some we know are solid performers,” he said, “but we don’t know how others will perform. We’re going to track them.”

How this green roof is structured

There are different kinds of green roofs.

An “extensive” green roof is low maintainence. There is less than six inches of planting medium and it uses plants that are drought- and wind-resistant.

An “intensive” green roof uses more than six inches of planting medium, can bear heavier loads and needs to be watered.

There are several layers to the green roof, including structural supports and waterproof barriers.

A layer of fabric called a root barrier is a safety measure to make sure none of the plants affect the roof.

Next comes something that looks like a large egg carton, which holds granular drainage medium.

Above that is fabric to keep fine particles out of the drainage medium.

The planting medium goes on top of that.

I’ve been careful to say planting medium because the green roof doesn’t use garden soil or even potting soil. It uses a proprietary planting medium that is engineered to be lightweight. While the weight of the planting medium and plants are a concern, so is the weight of the people who will walk on the roof. All of that has been taken into consideration.

Also in the plans is a system to collect runoff from the roof, then pump the water back up to the roof to irrigate plants. That will be installed closer to the end of the year.

While the green roof technology is relatively new in the United States, countries in Central Europe have been working with green roofs for half a century.

“We’re really interested in sharing what we learned,” Wochensky said. He invites anyone who is interested to contact him and become involved.

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5 Comments on “Fascinating green roof project under way in Springville; you can help

  1. There was a very tragic roof collapse in Riga Latvia (Maxims Supermarket)
    I hope that the builders have evaluated this tragedy(more than 35 dead )
    and have calculated the weight that will be generated in winter with frozen water and snow in addition to the containers.Have they also calculated the number of people and density of people in any one area that can be on the roof in summer?And what about plant mass?
    As we all know there was quite a bit of anxiety about roofs built
    by Buffalo builders last winter.What assurances are going to be provided
    by current builders?

  2. Regarding load calculations for the roof – Thanks for your comments! I am very familiar with that tragedy in Latvia.There are many thousands of successful green roofs in Central Europe. Even here in the United States we have green roofs approaching 100 years old (Rockefeller Center). I can’t speak to what went wrong there.

    I’m certainly no engineer but our licensed structural engineer (hired specifically for the green roof project) used FLL guidelines for green roof loading calculations which includes dead loads, snow, the weight of people, saturated soil, etc. All of this is then reviewed by a State Agency. It was described to me in simple terms that each column of our building can hold the equivalent of a full semi.

    Hopefully that answers your question. Thanks! – Seth Wochensky

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