Nowadays, going green is the new black. And Grand Rapids Community College is following that trend.
An unknown and often overlooked place on GRCC’s campus is the Applied Technology Center (ATC) building’s green roof, or living roof. Although GRCC’s living roof often goes unnoticed by students, it helps the school in a variety of ways. The best part is that this living roof is accessible to students.
On the second floor of the ATC building by the staircase there is a ramp that leads to an outdoor access site. There are benches and a platform overlooking the garden roof.
Built in the summer of 2008 with the generous support of the Steelcase Foundation, the building’s 35,000-square-foot green roof has helped cut costs for the school. This living roof is part of GRCC’s commitment to sustainability. According to the plaques in the vicinity, the plants growing on the roof assist the ATC building in six ways:
- Soak up UV rays
- Soak up rain
- Soak up sound
- Regulate temperatures
- Increase the amount of oxygen
- Lengthen the overall life of the roof
According to Abbot Kastanek, a facilities manager at GRCC, there are three types of roofs: black, white, and green. Black roofs are black in color and absorb heat. White roofs are white in color and reflect the sun. What is unique about green roofs is that they soak in ultraviolet rays without soaking in all the heat that black roofs do. They allow for more temperature control and help to regulate the building better than black or white roofs. One of the main benefits of green roofs is that they “reduce the urban heat island effect,” said Kastanek. A lot of buildings and cement in one condensed area create a lot of heat, and green roofs help to reduce this effect.
Green roofs, which typically last about 40 years, are “a good thing,” said Kastanek.
“But you have to consider the structural integrity of the building and see if it can support the added weight.” However, if the building can handle the weight, green roofs end up being durable, long-lasting, and for the most part self-sustainable.
“The roof requires very little maintenance,” said Director of Facilities Management Jim Van Dokkumburg. “Summit Landscaping weeds by hand and feeds the roof several times a year and that’s it. In times of drought, GRCC operations’ staff waters the lawn. 2012 was the first year the roof has required watering due to drought conditions.”
The little upkeep that is required is paid for by the GRCC Facilities office. Van Dokkumburg says that because of the green roof, there have been no leaks, and the rubber roof beneath has been protected from all the harmful elements, meaning a longer life. “The opportunity [for another green roof] has not presented itself since, but with the positive result of the first roof, it will be considered in the future,” Van Dokkumburg said.
Green roofs are not that uncommon. Several companies have decided to utilize green roofs, the largest being Ford Motor Company in Dearborn. Both Ford Motor Company and GRCC use a similar method of building a living roof. The top-most level is a layer of sedum plants. These plants come in pink, white, and green and are only found north of the equator. These plants are used because they retain water very well. The next level down is a layer of growing material for the plants. The third level is covered by live roof trays which support the plants. Next is a rubber roof membrane, followed by roof insulation and then the concrete structure of the building.
Even though society is moving toward being green, it doesn’t come cheap. The cost of living roofs is $15-$25 per square foot. As the world works to transition to green, living roofs will begin to become popular in many cities.