College Installs Its First Green Roof

October 18, 2019 | by the Office of Marketing and Communications

The Elmhurst campus got a little greener this fall, thanks to a new garden on top of the Frick Center.

On Sept. 30, staff members from the facilities department installed 4,000 square feet of plants on the College’s first green roof. The plants, a succulent groundcover called sedum, are specially designed to tolerate any kind of weather, from drought to extreme cold.

They’re also designed to benefit the environment. By capturing and storing rainwater in a built-in reservoir, the garden reduces the kind of runoff that causes flooding. And it protects the roof from the sun’s damaging rays and provides extra insulation for the building, keeping energy costs down.

“We’ve more than doubled the insulation value of the roof,” said Mike Emerson, executive director of facilities management.

Beyond the environmental benefits, the green roof will be a catalyst for research and teaching. Kelly Mikenas, a faculty member in the biology department, plans to leverage the rooftop plants for her ongoing research on microclimates and biodiversity.

“The green roof will give me and my students the chance to research the traits that allow native plant species to persist on a green roof,” she explains. “The roof’s microclimate could be a future scenario for our region, so these traits are relevant for our future.”

In addition to her Frick Center project, Mikenas is collaborating with the Chicago Botanic Garden to study whether green roofs could help native species that have lost habitat due to agriculture and climate change.

“Our region has lost most of its prairie—in Illinois, we’re down to less than one-tenth of one percent of what we used to have,” she said. “Green roofs have the potential to support native plants, pollinators, birds, and other species that are losing habitat.”

For his part, Emerson is delighted that the plants will contribute to new scientific knowledge. “The green roof combines sustainability, research and education, so it’s beneficial on every front,” Emerson said. “Our hope is that this is the first of many green roofs on campus.”

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