A Green Roof Day in New York

April 25, 2012 at 5:57 pm

By Ed Snodgrass

Much like Tarzan, King Kong and Crocodile Dundee I look out of place in New York.  I am a country boy by both birth and disposition.  So when I got a call from The Martha Stewart Show to be a guest on their Earth Day show I knew if I accepted I would have to be in Manhattan for a day or two and I would just have to make the most of it and find a way through my discomfort of urban spaces.

I got into New York Sunday afternoon and met Andrea Mason who produces the gardening segments of the Martha Stewart Show.  We worked through the afternoon preparing for the next day’s show.  We talked through the green roof mock-up and planted some areas of the roof and left other to plants on the show.  Geoff Rosen, the producer of the show stopped by to talk about the segment and frame some questions and other logistics. Before we knew it four hours had gone by.  It’s amazing how much work eight minutes of television takes.

I called my friend Patrick Cullina in Brooklyn to see if he had time to hang out.  Patrick was recently Vice President of Horticulture and Park Operations at the High Line and was formerly Vice President of Horticulture and Science at Brooklyn Botanic Garden.

Patrick is a great plantsman but also a serious basketball fan as am I.  We talked urban horticulture and hoops over hip food (menus with more adjectives than nouns) in Greenwich Village.

I woke early Monday morning and walked down to the High Line.  I hadn’t seen it since the second phase had been completed and before 8 AM it was already bustling both with people and with plants.  The redbuds were in bloom with foamflower fizzing under them.  It was like spring time in the Smokies but with a cityscape as a backdrop.

Angie Durhman from Tecta America was in New York by chance – we had talked a couple days earlier and she offered to take me to see the USPS Morgan Processing and Distribution Center roof, some 67,000 sq.ft. of extensive roof.  I jumped at the chance, but I had to be at the Martha Stewart studio by noon so it was a quick visit.

It was well worth it.  In contrast to the High Line, the USPS roof is a simple, easy landscape.  I enjoy the complexity of the High Line but I also enjoy the elegance of a properly maintained extensive green roof.  I saw Columbia University’s weather station up there and thought, these are the kind of roofs we need to measure.

Off to the studio and to very foreign scenes to me like a green room, hair and make-up, a very busy crew of people moving in all directions and finally the stage manager comes to get me and place me on my spot for the segment and then eight minutes of green roof talk with Martha Stewart and then off stage and done.

The people on the show could not have been nicer or more professional and it’s clear there is a real environmental concern at the show from top to bottom.

See the 5:25 The Martha Stewart Show Earth Day Show video clip here.

Happily, I was in car and through the Holland Tunnel before rush hour.  As I merged onto the New Jersey Turnpike, I thought I was happy to have taken the chance to go to New York but happier still to head back to the farm.

~ Ed Snodgrass

Publisher’s Note:  Read past “ask ed” archives here.

GPW: The U.S. Postal Service, Morgan Processing and Distribution Center

March 28, 2010 at 2:02 pm

Since 1995 the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) has been honored with more than 75 major environmental awards, including 40 White House Closing the Circle awards for environmental stewardship, and the 2009 Climate Change Champion of the Year Award for efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.   Consistently looking for ways to reduce their environmental impact,  last  July the USPS opened its first greenroof facility atop the seven-story Morgan Processing and Distribution Center  (P&DC) in midtown Manhattan, one of the largest mail processing facilities in the country at 2.2 million sf.   Part of a larger facility modernization scope, construction of the project began in September 2008 and was completed less than a year later in July, 2009, and on budget.   At the opening ceremony, Sam Pulcrano, Vice President of Sustainability said:

“Not only does it provide employees with a beautiful, serene outdoor environment, the green roof will help us meet our goal to reduce energy usage 30 percent by 2015.”

Currently the largest in New York City, the 2.5 acre living roof also serves as a park of sorts for employees who have access to the eco-friendly recreational space.   For example, planters and benches of the dense tropical hardwood Brazilian ipe wood, certified sustainable by the Forest Stewardship Council, provide areas for relaxation and require no sealants or staining – which in turn reduces VOC’s from entering the atmosphere and the stormwater system.   High Solar Reflectance Index (SRI) value concrete utility pavers and roof ballast aggregate  were used,  and the light poles and bollards meet cutoff standards for light pollution.   In addition to providing a spectacular panoramic view of midtown Manhattan and the northern New Jersey shore, the Morgan P&DC greenroof is expected to  reduce the amount of stormwater runoff by as much as 75% in summer and 40% in winter, and is projected to save the Postal Service $30,000 yearly on heating and cooling costs.

Built in 1933,  the Morgan P&DC was designated a historical landmark in 1986.   When the previous 109,000 sf roof needed replacing, engineers deemed the structural loading capacity strong enough to support the additional weight of the growing medium and vegetation needed for  a greenroof, so the USPS decided upon a pilot project.   J.P. Patti Company, a TectaAmerica company, was contracted to re-roof the Morgan Building.   During construction only about 15,000 sf needed to be removed and replaced, and nearly 90% of the original roof was recycled and reused on the roof.   The new roof system consists of a Sika Sarnafil ® 80 mil membrane and gypsum roof board over several layers of extruded polystyrene insulation.   Materials were loose laid over the existing roofing and selected roof areas were covered.  J.P. Patti blew the engineered soil  up to  a height of 95 feet and across  the 300 foot-wide roof area.   The original 176 copper column caps, now green due to natural oxidation, continue to define Morgan as a historic building among the grasses and sedums.   The new roof is expected to last at least 50 years.

The firm  in charge of  the design of the new  safe and sustainable rooftop with the  beautifil swaying native Calamagrostis, trees,  and other vegetation is Elizabeth Kennedy Landscape Architects (EKLA), a multidisciplinary firm, who was brought in as the greenroof  designer in 2007.   In July of last year, Damian Holmes of World Landscape Architect  interviewed Elizabeth J. Kennedy, Principal of EKLA, about the Morgan Processing facility.   EKLA and junior landscape architect Sigal Ben-Shmuel, who served as  project technical coordinator for the greenroof, were responsible for the rooftop layout,  media and plant selections, and planting plan.   The EKLA team also worked closely with  the engineering firm, URS Corporation,  to adhere to strict budget limits.  Elizabeth stressed their  goal in keeping the  “concept to a simple, elegant solution that could be completed on time and within budget without sacrificing the essentials of good design.”

Additional  U.S. Postal Service greener facilities strategies include using hybrid electric vehicles and other alternative fuel technologies.   With nearly 220,000 vehicles traveling more than 1.2 billion miles a year in their fleet (the largest civilian fleet in the world), they plan to meet  their goal of reducing fuel usage by 20% over the next five years.   The Postal Service also has expanded its recycling program in New York City to include mixed paper and cardboard, resulting in nearly 400 tons of materials recycled each month.   And last November they unveiled their revamped usps.com/green website, which provides a myriad assortment of useful info to help consumers make environmentally responsible decisions about their mail.   Did you know that the Postal Service is the only mailing and shipping company in America to be Cradle to Cradle™ certified for the environmental and health standards of its packaging?   They state that their packaging supplies are so green, the half billion pieces provided to customers last year prevented more than 15,000 tons of carbon emissions!

Here are some USPS  environmental achievements in 2009:

“¢ Saving $3 million and nearly 100 million kilowatts in an agency-wide energy challenge
“¢ Avoiding $1.05 million in costs via green information technology initiatives
“¢ Helping customers divert 24,000 tons of paper from landfills by recycling in 6,000 Post Office lobbies
“¢ Increasing alternative fuel use 61 percent since 2005
“¢ Using electric, propane and natural gas delivery vehicles and retiring 10,000 non-energy efficient vehicles

Majora Carter, founder of Sustainable South Bronx and now principal of Majora Carter Group, was on hand at the July 22, 2009, dedication ceremony and commented how this roof was not just a roof. “This is going to be the type of education center that teaches people from around the country,”  she said.  And Tom Samra, Vice President of Facilities, reiterated:

“The Postal Service is taking the lead when it comes to making a positive impact on the environment. We’re proud to dedicate our first green roof, and we are pleased to showcase this environmental oasis today in New York City.”

Submitted for LEED certification, the U.S. Postal Service Morgan Processing and Distribution Center  serves as a shining example of federal agency environmental leadership and commitment to green initiatives  in New York and the  rest of the U.S.   Read more about the U.S. Postal Service’s  sustainability efforts in the January 27, 2010 “Statement by Vice President of Sustainability Samuel M. Pulcrano to the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Federal Financial Management of the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs”  here.

Happy Greening!   ~ Linda V.