Should green rooftops be a growing trend in Fort Wayne?

Erin Browne
As more residents and businesses move to Downtown Fort Wayne, there’s growing interest in making the area “feel like home.” Oftentimes, that entails greater access to green space in the urban core.
 
Green infrastructure, ranging from parks and parklets to planters and trees, offers many city-dwellers a source of fresh air, entertainment, and peace of mind, says Alec Johnson Deputy Director of Planning and Development at Fort Wayne Parks and Recreation.

During a pandemic, on top of a looming global climate crisis, Johnson sees greater interest in creating green infrastructure in Fort Wayne as more people seek sustainable, environment-friendly development practices.
 
“Public green spaces and green infrastructure are proven catalysts for private investment,” Johnson says. “They offer public health benefits, and they strengthen communities and neighborhoods, serving as places where life happens.”

Parks and green infrastructure function as “backyards” for city-dwellers Downtown.
 
Across the U.S., one way many architects, building owners, and developers are answering the call for green infrastructure is by taking greenery to new heights, you might say. Green or living rooftops have been increasing nationally over the past two decades, and more recently, in Fort Wayne, where examples range from private residential developments, like Skyline Tower and Cityscape Flats, to overburden roofs at the City-County building at 1 E. Main St.
 
While previously working for an architecture firm in Minneapolis about 15 years ago, Johnson helped design more than 25 green rooftops of varying scales for clients, looking to make their developments more sustainable.
 
“It took a bit of education sometimes to convince a building owner or a developer that a green roof would be a valuable part of their development,” Johnson says. “But what we found is that once you did the education and showed them the value it creates—for the habitat, for the cooling effects, and for beautification—they embraced it completely.”

Deputy Director of Planning and Development at Fort Wayne Parks and Recreation Alec Johnson stands atop the green “living” roof at Concordia Theological Seminary (CTSFW) at 6600 N. Clinton St.
 
Along with a realization of the long-term returns on investment green roofs can provide, Johnson believes it will take zoning requirements to make them mainstream in Fort Wayne.
 
“In Minneapolis and most of its suburbs, there were zoning ordinances requiring green roofs in specific situations,” Johnson says. “The use of green roofs will be slow to implement in Fort Wayne without similar zoning requirements.”

Fort Wayne has zoning requirements on new developments that require vegetated screening around surface parking lots and between properties with different zoning classifications.
 
Currently, Fort Wayne has zoning requirements on new developments that require vegetated screening around surface parking lots and between properties with different zoning classifications. Zoning also requires the planting of street trees, which are maintained by the Fort Wayne Parks Department and contribute to the City’s tree canopy. But nothing yet relates to green roofs to help mitigate the heat island effect and stormwater runoff of urban pavement and black tar roofs.
 
So what are the pros and cons of green roofs in Fort Wayne so far?

Skyline Park is a private green roof atop a fifth story parking garage connected to Skyline Tower at 855 Webster St.
 
The most prominent example is Skyline Park at Skyline Tower Apartments, which opened in 2018. The apartment complex is 12 stories tall, and its park-like green roof sits atop a five-story parking garage next to it—making it the tallest green rooftop in all of Indiana. It’s a one-acre space, complete with sidewalks, trees, and flower beds, sandwiched between Skyline Tower and its adjoining Ash Brokerage Insurance Agency.
 
With its height, Skyline’s green roof offers sweeping views of the city to apartment residents, business tenants, and their guests. This “wow factor” is one of the most obvious perks, says David Arnold, Principal of Great Lakes Capital, who served as project’s Lead Developer in partnership with the local architecture and design firm, Design Collaborative.
 
“One challenge in urban development is having access to green space of any kind because the urban space is fairly confined,” Arnold says. “So it was very attractive to us as developers to be able to offer this one-acre park to our tenants, especially at this height. At night, when the city lights up, the view from this park is extremely special.”

Skyline Park is a private green roof atop a fifth story parking garage connected to Skyline Tower at 855 Webster St.
 
As the war for talent heats up during the pandemic, the opportunity to create unique spaces in cities like Fort Wayne, which lack natural amenities like mountains and oceans, may boost the appeal of green roofs. Arnold credits Skyline Tower’s roof to its strong retention rates of more than 90 percent occupancy since opening and throughout the pandemic.
 
Studies indicate greenery can benefit business and academics, too, reducing employee absenteeism, boosting productivity, and increasing student success rates. While perks like these might benefit some residents in cities, green roofs also provide more pervasive environmental benefits to communities that are both immediate and long-term.

Skyline Park is a private green roof atop a fifth story parking garage connected to Skyline Tower at 855 Webster St.
 
Nathan Woods, a Partner and Architect at Design Collaborative, helped lead the team that developed Skyline Tower’s green roof, as well as other green roofs in the Downtown area. His team also led the development of the largest green rooftop in the state at Notre Dame University in South Bend, spanning nearly two acres atop its existing Joyce Center, home to the Fighting Irish Athletics Department and the Purcell Pavilion arena. Nathan Woods
 
While both Skyline and the Joyce Center’s green roofs offer environmental benefits, Notre Dame’s was foremost designed with the environment in mind, as a part of the school’s Comprehensive Sustainability Strategy to cut its carbon footprint in half by 2030. This roof has a layout that consists of 25 plant species, including 22 varieties of sedum, and a rooftop irrigation system.
 
“It’s a two-acre demonstration of Notre Dame’s commitment to a vision and practice of sustainability and to adopting more sustainable practices big and small, campuswide,” Woods says.

The green roof at Notre Dame’s Joyce Center consists of 25 plant species, including 22 varieties of sedum, and a rooftop irrigation system.
 
The Joyce Center is Notre Dame’s fifth living rooftop. The university has found that green roofs “are proven to mitigate stormwater run-off, improve air quality by reducing carbon dioxide, provide noise insulation, naturally insulate to keep indoor temperatures lower during warm months and higher in cold months, and conserve rainwater for release back into the atmosphere.”
 
The Joyce Center alone is calculated to decrease stormwater runoff by up to 90 percent and filter as much as 18 tons of dust and smog from their campus per year due to its native plant varieties. Since Indiana has ranked among the lowest in the nation for air quality, this factor could help the state environmentally. But it doesn’t necessarily save building owners and developers money in the short term.

The green roof at Notre Dame’s Joyce Center consists of 25 plant species, including 22 varieties of sedum, and a rooftop irrigation system.
 
One challenge with green rooftops can be their upfront cost, which varies widely depending on the size, type, and function of the space. The complexity of the installation is one factor driving up costs, along with the mere price of building supplies, which has increased 10-20 percent during the pandemic, Design Collaborative estimates. Bob Sanderson
 
To function effectively, especially on a grand scale, green roofs require careful planning and foresight. Bob Sanderson, a Registered Roofing and Building Envelope Consultant at Design Collaborative, engineers the logistics beneath green roofs, like those at Skyline Tower and the Joyce Center. He says green rooftops are largely divided into two categories: Intensive and extensive. Intensive, like Skyline’s, are constructed with deeper beds (five inches or more) to support larger plant life and trees; whereas extensive, like Notre Dame’s, are designed with shallower beds to support smaller plant life, like native grasses and sedum, a highly durable “stonecrop.” In many ways, the cost of a green roof increases according to its functional needs and decreases per square foot as it gets larger. 
 
Different types of green rooftops can also affect how much ongoing maintenance and upkeep they require. At Skyline, developers had to account for how to get tools, like lawnmowers, up freight elevators, as well as how to accommodate parties and events, like rooftop yoga. On the Joyce Center’s more natural green rooftop, which is not used as a park, a one-time installation with minimal upkeep is all that’s needed.

The green roof at Notre Dame’s Joyce Center consists of 25 plant species, including 22 varieties of sedum, and a rooftop irrigation system.
 
A pre-pandemic cost-benefit analysis by the U.S. General Services Administration finds that the installed cost premium for green roofs ranges from $10.30 to $19.70 per square foot more than a conventional, black roof. Annual maintenance is typically higher by $0.21 to $0.31 per square foot, too.
 
Even so, Woods notes that, in many cases, installing a green roof can actually extend the lifetime of a rooftop up to two or three times, which factors into the return on investment. The Joyce Center’s green roof is estimated to extend the life expectancy of its roof membrane by 200 to 300 percent.

Green roofs can be planted with a variety of vegetation including native species.
 
Green roofs can also have thermodynamic benefits for buildings in urban spaces, reducing energy costs in the summer and winter. According to estimates from the National Research Council of Canada, depending on the number of floors in a building and on the local climate, a green roof can reduce air conditioning use up to 75 percent.
 
The roof’s ability to reduce stormwater run-off into existing infrastructure, like pipelines and water treatment facilities, can end up benefitting cities and communities in the long run, too.
 
“Notre Dame has benefited by the reduced stormwater run-off into their existing campus infrastructure, decreasing the demand on existing pipelines and water treatment facilities,” Woods says. “It creates additional capacity in those critical pieces to support new construction on their campus without having to be replaced or upgraded. That means a green roof can offer savings beyond the project itself, benefiting the campus or community it is placed within.”

A green “living” roof with native plant species atop the campus library at Concordia Theological Seminary (CTSFW) at 6600 N. Clinton St.
 
This long-term savings potential is one factor that convinced Robert Roethemeyer and his team at Concordia Theological Seminary (CTSFW) that a green roof was the right choice when they were expanding the campus library in the early 2010s. The project, completed in partnership with MSKTD & Associates architecture firm and Hagerman Group construction, quadrupled the campus’s existing Wayne and Barbara Kroemer Library from one of its original 15,000-square-foot “lantern buildings” to a flat, elongated 60,000-square-foot, two-story structure with a green roof. Roethemeyer is the Wakefield-Kroemer Director of Library and Information Services who helped make the decision to add a green roof to the project.
 
“It was more costly at the outset, but it’s also been a more durable option for us in the long-term,” Roethemeyer says. “A typical roof would last about 30 years, but our roof is expected to last up to 90 years now.”

A green “living” roof (during the cold season) atop the campus library at Concordia Theological Seminary (CTSFW) at 6600 N. Clinton St.
 
Sitting at water level on the campus lake, the new library was intentionally designed to be low-lying, as to not interrupt the seminary’s historic Mid-Century design by the renowned Finnish-American architect Eero Saarinen. Having a flat, sidewalk-level rooftop accessible from the campus’s main chapel means aesthetics and function needed to play into the decision, too. Roethemeyer’s team wanted the roof to provide students and public visitors alike with a natural, park-like place to enjoy a book, a conversation, or a lunch break. This resulted in an extensive green roof with walkways, seating, and about nine large garden beds of native plant life.

A green “living” roof (during the cold season) atop the campus library at Concordia Theological Seminary (CTSFW) at 6600 N. Clinton St.
 
In the construction process, Roethemeyer says MSKTD’s team helped him identify a vendor called LiveRoof® Hybrid Green Roof Systems, to fill the space with low-maintenance native plants. LiveRoof is the same vendor Design Collaborative used for its extensive green roof at the Joyce Center. Based in Spring Lake, Mich., LiveRoof’s website reports that during the 16 years it’s been in business, it has installed more than 10.35 million square feet of green roofs in 5,311 projects across 11 countries. It offers built-in-place living roof modules with delivery and installation, as well as the underlying “carpet” or mat systems to prevent the need for excessive watering and upkeep.

Grounds Manager Dennis Mertz maintains the green “living” roof (during the cold season) atop the campus library at Concordia Theological Seminary (CTSFW) at 6600 N. Clinton St.
 
Dennis Mertz, Grounds Manager at CTS-FW’s campus, says working with LiveRoof has been easy. According to their contract, they visit campus each spring to make sure the vegetation is in good shape. Much of it is sedum, which is highly drought resistant. As a result, Mertz finds the green roof to be extremely low maintenance, especially compared to the rest of campus with its grass, trees, and mulch. LiveRoof plants are contained in two-foot by two-foot planters provided by the company.
 
“If a section dies off, you just take out the tray, and switch it out,” he says. “All we do in the spring is cut everything back, trim it up with weed eaters, fertilize it once a year, and that’s it. You don’t even need to water it because it’s getting rained on.”

The green roof atop the campus library at Concordia Theological Seminary is divided into two-foot by two-foot planter boxes.
 
Roethemeyer says the environmental benefits speak to CTS-FW’s values, too, feeding cleaner water into the city’s rivers and preventing challenges downstream.
 
“The LiveRoof itself acts as a filtration system and prevents storm drains from being overpowered by a downpour,” he says. “Our roof filters rainwater and runoff, which drains from campus and feeds into the St. Joseph River.”

A green “living” roof (during the cold season) atop the campus library at Concordia Theological Seminary (CTSFW) at 6600 N. Clinton St.
 
So if you want to transition to a green roof, where do you begin?
 
“It all comes down to your structural capability,” says Sanderson.
 
While the cost of green roofs generally decreases as they get larger, don’t discount the value of smaller rooftops with fewer logistical hurdles.
 
“There’s no size limit,” Sanderson says. “Actually, smaller might be better because you’ll have fewer seams in your roofing to deal with.”

As more residents and businesses move to Downtown Fort Wayne, there’s growing interest in green infrastructure.
 
While laying beds of soil and grass will likely require a structural assessment, getting started can be as simple as adding a few planters to an existing outdoor rooftop, patio, or windowsill. As Johnson puts it, more greenery in urban areas—in any form—ultimately benefits everyone.
 
“It all contributes to the vibrancy of Fort Wayne,” he says.
 
See for yourself
 
Anyone can visit a green roof in Fort Wayne at Concordia Theological Seminary’s campus at 6600 N. Clinton St., which is open to the public. 

This LiveRoof sits atop the Kroemer Library Complex on the lake, next to the central Kramer Chapel. Each spring, it blooms with native plant life and offers tables and chairs for visitors to relax by the water. While it is not far above the ground level, it offers a glimpse of what’s possible with LiveRoof technology and the benefits of public green spaces.

This story was made possible by underwriting from Design Collaborative and Downtown Fort Wayne.
 

https://www.inputfortwayne.com/features/greenrooftops.aspx

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