Besides Central Park, there are few places in Manhattan available with enough space to allow for anything green to grow. However, one boys’ high school in the concrete city found some 20,000 square feet to do just that—the roof.
Regis High School, on East 84th Street in Manhattan, is one of only a handful of schools to install a green roof made of vegetation and native grasses. The Jesuit-run school completed the project—which has been some two years in the works—and held a dedication ceremony Oct. 5 led by Father Philip G. Judge, S.J., president of Regis.
Father Judge told CNY that the school decided to install the green roof because “it’s an economically and environmentally good thing to do.” The roof, which was designed and installed by Greensulate, is the second largest roof of its kind in the city. The roof is made of four to eight inches of growing material and is planted with native wildflowers, Father Judge said. Since the sun does not touch the actual roof membrane, it will last about twice as long as a regular roof, he said.
It’s decked out with scientific monitoring equipment that’s hooked up to Columbia University’s Center for Climate Systems Research, which will generate data that Regis also can use to expand its environmental science and ecology curriculum. “We have a science research program and we are hoping that students will use the roof for their own research,” Father Judge said.
Among the green roof’s benefits are that it cleans and cools the air, absorbs storm water and increases biodiversity for the city’s insect and bird populations. There is a platform for astronomical observation, an apiary for bees and an herb garden that produces chive, mint, oregano, lavender and sage for use in the school cafeteria.
The installation of the green roof has not been the first “green” movement by the full-scholarship school for boys. For about four years, solar panels have been in use, providing the school with about 5 percent of its electric power.
“Regis is a landmark building, so we can’t build anything that you can see from the street,” Father Judge said. “There was nothing on the roof. Now it’s a place where the kids can go. You don’t expect to find gardens on the tops of buildings in New York City,” he said with a laugh.
Brian Peterson, moderator of the environmental club and an environmental studies teacher at the school, welcomes the green roof initiative. “We are in many ways part of a groundbreaking effort,” he said. “This is something that many schools and buildings will be doing in the future.”
In addition to having an environmental impact on the surroundings, the area will also serve as a “laboratory” for environmental and scientific experiments, he said. He said he hopes students see that “we can have a direct, immediate and beneficial impact on the environment with how we construct our everyday spaces” and come to a better “appreciation for the environment.”
Matt Balik, a sophomore at the school and member of the environmental club told CNY that he has been involved in environmental issues for several years. “Our generation especially can’t ignore this issue.”
“I’m happy that my school is involved in this,” he added. “The roof helps us be aware of the environmental effect we have and that we need to be concerned about it.”