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Posted June 6, 2010 EST

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Is Green Roof For St. Paul's New Fire Station Worth The Cost
United States (Minnesota) - A giant garden is taking root in St. Paul, 18 feet above the street. The fire department's new headquarters, which also houses a station, will be home to the first green roof on a city-owned building. The price tag for the 9,000-square-foot roof is about $500,000, said Dave Nelson, St. Paul project manager for the fire department building. A traditional roof would have cost about $100,000, he said.

One local group says the city spent too much money.

"Given the city's perpetual budget problems, the fire station's new rooftop garden and classroom might be better suited as an interpretative center of the city's callous waste of taxpayer funds and misplaced priorities," said Tom Steward, investigative director of the Freedom Foundation of Minnesota, a nonprofit organization that advocates limited government.

But the city says it's deceiving to look at only the up-front cost of the green roof.

St. Paul's goals are to reduce long-term operating expenses of its buildings and to make them more durable, two things the green roof should accomplish, said Anne Hunt, environmental policy director to St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman.

"It's a very short-sighted response for them to take," Coleman spokesman Bob Hume said of the Freedom Foundation's comments. "There's long-term energy savings, there's storm-water issues and long-term environmental concerns that came into play in making this decision. They're looking at only a tiny little piece of a very large

puzzle."

The roof will be used by firefighters for public events and as a classroom, which makes it rare, said Rex Greenwald, project executive for Stock Roofing Co., which is installing the green roof.

"Most of the green roofs that we do, as beautiful as they are, are not public," he said. The only people allowed on the Target Center's green roof, which Fridley-based Stock Roofing also built, are those doing maintenance, Greenwald said.

There will be almost 100 different plant species on the St. Paul roof. They're all perennials and native to the region, said Loren Abraham, the project architect. The grasses are "no-mow turf," he said.

Instead of trees, there will be 10 metal trellises in the shape of trees with climbing plants growing on them to "invoke the feeling of trees," Abraham said. There also will be a small pond and waterfall.

Firefighters, who live and cook at the station -- at West Seventh Street and Randolph Avenue -- during their 24-hour shifts, will be able to plant a vegetable garden on the roof, Abraham said.

A 6,000-gallon cistern will collect rainwater to irrigate the green roof, Greenwald said. The Capitol Region Watershed District will study storm water rate and quality from the roof, Nelson said.

The green roof will also be a classroom, Nelson said. The city knows children will come to the fire station for field trips -- "those red fire engines are the things that draw them here," Nelson said -- and they'll get to see the green roof. There will be learning stations throughout the roof, and a curriculum is being developed.

The Capitol Region Watershed District provided a $32,000 grant for the educational components (along with $88,000 for construction), Nelson said.

There will be opportunities for the general public to see the green roof, but the city is working out the details as it seeks to balance public interest with building security, Nelson said.

Work on the green roof began in April, and the goal is to be done by the end of June, Greenwald said. A grand opening for the building is planned for Sept. 10.

The whole building, including the green roof, cost $15.2 million and was financed through public safety bonds. The St. Paul City Council unanimously passed a green building policy for city-owned buildings in 2007, and the city will seek to have the new fire building certified as Leadership in Energy and Economic Design (LEED) silver, Hunt said.

Planning had been under way since 2006 for the building, Nelson said.

"It's unfortunate that the economy took a dip," he said. "However, on the flip side, if you're in the business of buying and paying for construction, it meant we got competitive bids."

The Minnesota Green Roofs Council says green roofs can lead to savings and lists these:

--A typical roof is expected to last 15 to 20 years before it must be replaced, while a green roof can last 35 to 50 years without replacement.

--Green roofs can reduce heating and cooling demands, with cooling cut by up to 25 percent, and decrease storm-water management costs.

There also are maintenance costs to green roofs. The city has a three-year contract with Stock Roofing, included in the total price tag and costing $10,000, for maintenance, Nelson said.

The majority of the maintenance happens in the first year or two after a green roof is built, making sure plants live and everything works; "after that, it's like maintenance on a lawn," Greenwald said.

The city's parks and recreation staff will have the chance to learn about caring for green roofs from Stock, and the city will decide in the future whether the roof's upkeep will be done by city staff or contracted out, Nelson said.

Mara H. Gottfried can be reached at 651-228-5262.

Written by Saint Paul Pioneer Press

Courtesy of YellowBrix - YellowBrix


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