Green gets off the ground

Roofs: HCC packs the tops of buildings with plants in an effort to help the environment and promote learning.

August 21, 2005|By Karen Nitkin | Karen Nitkin,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

At Harford Community College, environmental awareness starts at the top. The rooftop, that is.

Three "green roofs" are part of ambitious renovations and expansions on campus. The roofs, which were planted this summer, include greenery that will insulate the buildings in winter, cool them in summer and protect them from weather damage year-round.

The plants were grown by Emory Knoll Farms in nearby Street, one of a few nurseries nationwide specializing in green roofs. Edmund Snodgrass, the owner of Emory Knoll Farms, said eight species are being used, all hardy succulents that can store water for long periods of drought and perennials that will return year after year.

Snodgrass, who has been growing plants for green roofs since 2000, said interest in the subject is growing in Maryland. "It certainly is gaining popularity here," he said.

The green-roof concept has been popular for about 20 years in Europe, said Stephen Garey, capital projects coordinator for the campus, and is picking up steam in the United States.

HCC began a campus-wide effort to promote environmentally sensitive construction in 2002 under then-President Claudia Chiesi, said Gregory Deal, assistant vice president for campus operations.

At that time, Deborah Wrobel, now dean of nursing, allied health and science, was given the job of senior fellow for sustainability, environmental science and engineering. Her job, she explained, was to "look for the best environmental solutions for all of our work on campus, and also to promote environmental education."

Part of that effort was pursuing LEED - or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design - certification, a nationally accepted standard created by the U.S. Green Building Council, a building industry coalition focused on environmentally responsible construction.

The LEED system awards points for measures taken to create environmentally sensitive buildings. A standard LEED certification is 26 points, silver is 33, gold is 39 and platinum is 52, Garey said.

Officials at HCC want a project at Joppa Hall to earn a LEED gold status. Another construction project, at Bel Air Hall, is in the running for a standard LEED certification. Officials won't know for sure whether they have earned it until the buildings are completed and evaluated, Garey said. But the green roof is worth one point for Joppa Hall.

"When we approach projects, we're trying to be as environmentally sensitive - and as sensible - as possible," Garey said.

One of the three green roofs will be for demonstration and education, Garey said. It will be about 4 feet off the ground, so visitors can see it, he said.

Another covers an addition that will house a new program, called building preservation and restoration, and the third roof covers an addition for the music department.

Wrobel said the educational aspects of the roofs are important to the college.

"We believe teaching occurs inside the classroom and outside the classroom," she said. "We're going to be teaching people what it means to be a green building."

Community outreach will be part of the mission, as will encouraging HCC staffers to use the green roofs in their lessons, she said.

"I'd say that, campus-wide, I believe that teachers will draw on it," she said. "But I would say it's going to be centered within our science program. And not just environmental science, but earth science as well."

HCC recently won an $87,000 Environmental Design Initiative grant from the state Department of Natural Resources to help pay for the construction. The college is contributing $80,000 for renovations to Joppa Hall, which was built in 1968.

Another renovation, at the smaller Havre de Grace Hall, is not in the running for LEED certification, but it will feature a rainwater collection system that will gather water for some of the flushing systems, Garey said. The project won $32,000 in DNR funds, matched by $32,000 from the college, he said.

The planted roofs are just one component of the green construction at Joppa Hall. Other features includeenergy-efficient windows and lighting, urinals that don't use water, recycled carpet and a pond that will manage and treat stormwater runoff.

To further protect the environment, a portion of the demolition debris is going to recycling centers instead of landfills, and a percentage of the wood is coming from forests that plant replacement trees, Garey said.

Deal said that putting ideas into action is important to HCC.

"We're very interested in trying to practice what we preach here at the college," he said.

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