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Fall 2009 - Green Ideas

Destination Purdue > Fall 2009 - Green Ideas

Students' green ideas sprout from rooftop

By Shawna Hubbard

Today, people who eat lunch on the roof of Schleman Hall enter a garden of green vegetation and colorful flowers, dotted with wooden benches and picnic tables.

Whittaker and student

Photo by Shawna Hubbard

Ryan Cambridge (right), a senior landscape architecture major, and Dale Whittaker, associate dean of the Purdue College of Agriculture, remove the dividers between vegetation modules on the roof of Schelman Hall. Their work created a green roof, the first on Purdue's West Lafayette campus.

But just a few months ago, the roof of this Purdue building was like any other, with cold concrete slabs bordered by a brick wall and guardrail with chipped brown paint.

Ryan Cambridge, a senior landscape architecture major from Indianapolis, led a student effort to install this garden, called a green roof, on the administration building. The Schleman Hall project was developed to save energy costs and reduce environmental impact.

It also created a warm and welcoming rooftop park where staff and students can look over blossoming trees, emerald lawns and a 38-foot fountain from their elevated angle. "Environmental solutions are not only functional, but attractive," said Cambridge.

When it comes to function, the beautiful low-lying vegetation modules that line the roof absorb up to 100 percent of the water runoff during a rain shower. Collecting the water doesn't just help the plants grow; it keeps pollutants and excess water out of the sewer.

The walking path that cuts through the middle of the oasis is made of white concrete, which reflects sunlight and insulates the roof. All the rooftop elements help conserve heat in the winter and cool air in the summer.

"The green roof is one cost, but the benefits go on forever," said Cambridge about the project's energy-reducing effects. A green roof contains plants and landscape elements on top of waterproof membrane. In addition to reducing heating and cooling costs and controlling rainwater, the rooftop plants also help remove carbon dioxide, a significant greenhouse gas, from the atmosophere.

Cambridge worked for three years with Boiler Green Initiative, the student club he founded in 2006, to start the process of retrofitting Purdue buildings with green roofs.

The Schleman Hall project is the first true green roof at Purdue, according to Cambridge. To obtain funding, Cambridge took initiative to survey the roof, design a layout for it and estimate all the costs involved before writing a grant proposal for the project. In February, Boiler Green Initiative was awarded $68,000 from the State Farm Youth Advisory Board to complete the green roof installation.

Although the garden is a striking space, Cambridge would like visitors to be impressed by more than its beauty. He wants students to understand that although they have limited authority, they can make a difference in their communities. "We hope that we can look back 10 years from now and say confidently that Purdue University would be a very different place without the students of the Boiler Green Initiative," said Cambridge.

Although Cambridge has driven the project, a team of about a dozen certified student laborers installed the live vegetation modules and other elements. Heather Gall, a doctoral student in civil engineering from West Milford, N.J., is monitoring the outcomes of the green roof. "My hope is that we can educate both students and the public about why green roofs are important," she said.

One of the project's far-reaching effects will be as an educational tool for campus and beyond. "We believe that one of the biggest barriers to environmental change is the lack of understanding by the general public, and by creating a system that can be experienced first-hand we can help eliminate that barrier," said Cambridge.

As a May 2009 graduate, Cambridge said it seems unreal to him that a green roof project is finally complete. "I think I am leaving Purdue a better person, and I think this project is one way to return the favor."