By RJ Walters / For the Jackson Citizen Patriot
If you’re on the Albion College campus, you’re not seeing things. Those are plants growing on the rooftop of the Facilities Operation buildings.
College officials said they hope the vegetative, eco-friendly roofs they installed last month on the buildings at Huron and Porter streets reduce rainwater runoff into the sewer system and reduce heat generated by the roof.
Not only are there eco-friendly purposes for the roof, it will also be an eye-popping display of vibrant color as the flowers change colors as summer progresses. Director of Grounds Mark Frever said the entire community seems captivated by it.
“It’s probably one of the most interesting projects that I’ve had — it just sparks the interest of everybody,” he said. “Residents of Albion, faculty, staff and students are all interested in it.”
Frever said the college has been considering the possibility of green roofing since he and colleagues took a tour of Ford’s environmentally friendly River Rouge plant in 2004.
He said he didn’t know what to expect initially but the project proved less challenging than he thought.
The college purchased the roof system after the sedum had been growing for 12 weeks. The sedum started out at Twixwood Nursery in Berrien Springs before being watered by an irrigation system in a field.
All the college had to do was build a basic flat-roof structure and drop in the plants.
“It’s really a pretty simple structure,” said Don Masternak, managing director of facilities operations. “It’s a flat-roof canopy technically, and we just wanted to make sure we had the capacity to support the dead load of the additional plant materials.”
Frever said the roofs are referred to as “heat sinks” because of the absorption power of the sedum, and studies have shown that a typical flat roof that is at a 145-degree temperature on a hot day can be brought down to the mid-80s with this type of system.
He has placed sensors on the roofs to compare the temperature to some of the other buildings on campus throughout the summer.
While Masternak was unable to give an exact dollar figure on the cost of the eco-roofs, he did say they were more expensive than most traditional ones up front, with the potential to save money on heating and cooling costs in the future.
“It’s self sustaining once it’s up and running,” Frever said. “And the sedum will more or less go dormant in the wintertime. It just kind of shuts down and protects itself before coming back to life in the spring.”
Masternak said the two roofs are approximately 10 feet by 18 feet and 12-by-20, and this is an evaluation to see the feasibility of putting vegetative roofs throughout campus in the future.
“I think we’re real proud of what we’re trying to do here, and we enjoy also having an increase in the green area of our particular environment,” he said.