Green roofs slow to take root in Indianapolis area: Despite an array of environmental and other benefits, initial costs and lack of incentives put lid on their use

November 6, 2006

Green roofs color the skylines in Chicago, Philadelphia, Toronto and other North American cities, but Hoosiers have to look high and low to find similar examples of the plant-filled building tops in Indianapolis.

"Most green roofs [in other cities] are on the tops of existing buildings, where here they are [more likely to be found] above an underground parking garage that you might not even be aware is there," said Mark Zelonis, director of the gardens and grounds at the Indianapolis Museum of Art.

Prime examples of green roofs in Indiana are Capitol Commons at Maryland and Capital streets, the courtyard at the AUL Building, and the red maples at Sutphin Mall at the Indianapolis Museum of Art. All are above underground garages.

These types of green roofs are difficult to duplicate in most commercial projects, however, unless developers have existing green space to work with.

In other cities, green roofs are more roof-like and often go unnoticed at street level. The Royal York Hotel in Toronto, for example, has the kitchen's herb garden on the roof. The Ford Motor Co. plant in Dearborn, Mich., has a 1-millionsquare-foot green roof, and the American Society of Landscape Architects headquarters in Washington, D.C., has a multilevel green roof.

New Haven, Conn., officials recently announced plans to install green roofs on six bus stops. And the Central Library in Des Moines has a green roof that looks like an Iowa cornfield.

Oregon has dozens of green roofs and

offers tax incentives to those who want to build them.

Researchers say a green roof can last two to three times as long as a traditional roof, decrease noise, boost air quality, reduce heat islands, lower cooling and heating costs, and absorb or slow down storm water runoff.

Indianapolis particularly might be interested in developing more green roofs because of severe problems with storm water runoff, said Phil Schaefer, director of green space at the not-for-profit Keep Indianapolis Beautiful Inc.

Holding trees

At the IMA's parking garage, about 60 Red Sunset maple trees are rooted in 4 feet of Haydite, a heat-expanded shale that is lightweight and porous. It is mixed with sand and bark mulch, but no dirt.

The IMA's underground parking garage and roof-planting project accomplished several goals, Zelonis said. An above-ground garage would have interfered with the views of the main museum building and surrounding landscapes. With the more expensive, below-ground structure, the museum was able to address parking and aesthetic concerns, he said.

On the city's east side, Joe Bowling wants to take the Indianapolis green-roof movement up a notch, to the top of a onestory commercial building on the southeast corner of 10th and Rural streets.

The 1920, yellow brick building is being renovated by the Englewood Community Development Corp., which is part of Englewood Christian Church. Bowling and the CDC have applied for grants from Keep Indianapolis Beautiful Inc., and from the Indiana Department of Energy to fund the 2,000-square-foot green-roof project.

"The building is so close to traffic and there is hard, impervious surface everywhere," said Bowling, a commercial real estate appraiser who is a member of the church and a volunteer with the CDC.

There's a small pocket park next door and an opportunity for a landscaped lawn behind the building. Add to that the living roof, and the area's green space will be greatly expanded and enhanced, he said.

"We wanted to develop something that fit with our beliefs. We believe in sustainability and wanted it to have energy efficiency and a green development. That was very important to us," Bowling said.

He estimates it will cost about $6 a square foot, or $12,000, to do the roof with a system he designed. Using a commercially available modular format, the cost would be about $7 or $8 a square foot.

Cost effectiveness

Green roofs cost about four times more to build than traditional roofs, but longterm costs could be nearly equal, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, especially if a developer is able to shave other storm-water infrastructure costs because of the green roof.

The idea of a green roof really isn't new-they've been in use in Europe for centuries, said Craig Flandermeyer, a landscape architect with Schmidt Associates Inc., an Indianapolis engineering firm. Above Schmidt's offices downtown is an 8-foot-by-8-foot plot of green roof where Flandermeyer and colleagues are testing different planting mediums and plants.

Easier than they look

Depending on their design, green roofs have certain structural, weight-bearing requirements, but the technology is not difficult, especially for available modular formats, which adapt to commercial and residential buildings.

"If you can plant a garden, you can plant a green roof," Flandermeyer said.

An elaborate example of a green roof in the area is atop the Carrabba Italian Grill in Southport, a tightly planted aerial landscape that includes trees and shrubs.

"It's the last of a dying breed," said Randy Cramer, owner operator of the franchise restaurant.

Nationally, the Carrabba chain has changed the design of its restaurants and no longer is building them with garden roofs, said Andi Jacobs, vice president of advertising and marketing for Carrabba, based in Tampa, Fla.

The company originally worked with a New York City architect who included landscaping in all his designs, she said.

Not a traditional green roof, the large plants are individually potted rather than planted directly into the roof garden.

"It's meant to recall the Tuscan countryside," she said.

The most important component of any green roof is a membrane that ensures roots and water don't penetrate, Flandermeyer said.

Like the roof above the parking garage at the IMA, most green roofs rely on a soil-less growing medium for plants. The soil-less medium drains fast to reduce the weight of water.

"It's a balancing act of organic and inorganic matter," Flandermeyer said.

Unlike the IMA's trees, many greenroof plants are succulents, such as sedums and iceplants, which are shallowrooted and don't require much water.

Whether more green roofs catch on in Indiana is hard to predict. The city and state lack incentives to encourage or support green roofs. In Chicago, where more than 40 green roofs dot the skyline, City Hall features a green roof as do other municipal and commercial buildings, Flandermeyer said.

"We need to help the industry along," he said.

Construction and remodeling projects in Chicago that have green roofs get a fast track when seeking permits, said Phil Schaefer, green space director at Keep Indianapolis Beautiful Inc., and an advocate of green building practices.

"With solar panels, you can get IPL assistance. You want to put in a green roof, there's no one to help," Schaefer said. "We really don't have any real green roofs in Indianapolis. There's a lot of local interest. We're just slow to change."
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