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Students research green roof possibilities for W&M campus

  • Green Roof
    Green Roof  (Left to right) Drew Albright '10, Charlie Martino (of Cooke's Gardens), Amanda Anderson '11, Patrick Foley '13, Gabrielle Names '12 and Jeni Anderson '11 look at the green roof panels.  Photo by Stephen Salpukas
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Already lush with vegetation, William & Mary's skyline may soon get a little greener.

Last month, more than 20 students from various organizations - including the College's Committee on Sustainability, the Sharpe Community Scholars Program, the EcoHouse, and the Student Environmental Action Coalition - completed the College's first green roof test plots.

 From the start, the student team has worked closely with Charlie Martino of Cooke's Gardens in Williamsburg. An advocate of green roofs and other sustainable land use programs, Martino has donated numerous hours and materials to the project over the past year.

"A green roof is a roof covered with vegetation and soil, planted over a waterproofing barrier," according to Dennis Taylor, professor of marine science and the faculty advisor for the project. "Green roofs absorb rainwater, provide insulation, create a habitat for wildlife, and help to moderate indoor air temperatures."

The green roof project began last fall as a community engagement project in the Sharpe Community Scholars Program. Under the supervision of Martino and Taylor, professor of marine science, the students designed the test plots and planned the work days themselves.

The team received a grant from the student green fee in the spring of 2009. Administered by the Committee on Sustainability (COS), the student green fee funds various campus sustainability projects and research, as well as a green endowment.

Like many of the initiatives funded by the student green fee, the green roof project is a uniquely hands-on opportunity for the participating students. "This isn't just cut-and-dry scientific research; it's about problem solving, and doing research that will actively affect the building strategies of the College in the future," stated Amanda Anderson '11, a member of all four of the participating organizations.

Drew Albright '10, a student volunteer on COS, agreed.

"This was above and beyond any of the opportunities I have had in the classroom," he said. "It's so exciting to get involved in a project that is leading toward real and beneficial results!"

The students' work began on a Friday morning in October, constructing tables to support the roofs. After building the frames outside of the Keck Environmental Field Lab, the group transported them to a location adjacent to the Integrated Science Center on Landrum Drive.

Once in place, the students installed the beds and planted the beginnings of the roof. By Sunday afternoon, they had finished the two green roof test plots, and the necessary control plots of traditional roofing materials were ready for installation.

"We put various layers of dirt, sand, and manure-enriched dirt on top of a couple layers of semipermeable membranes," said Gabbie Names '12, a member of all four of the participating groups, explaining the planting process. "Then, on top of all of that, we finally put the plants."

After giving the plants time to establish, testing for water runoff quantity and quality will tentatively begin on Feb. 1, 2010. The group is also developing methods to measure the thermal insulation properties of the roof, with help from biology and environmental science and policy professors Randy Chambers and John Swaddle, both also members of COS.

The students' ultimate goal is to eventually see a green roof installed on a campus building, and would like to encourage further student involvement in such projects.

"We hope our research can show the College the importance of sustainable development not only for energy savings and water quality purposes, but for financial reasons as well," said Anderson. "We hope that this project will also spur more green design research in the future at the College."