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NWP Global Registry of Apprentice Ecologists - Athens High School, Troy, Michigan, USA

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Athens High School, Troy, Michigan, USA


Registered: December 2015
City/Town/Province: Troy
Posts: 1
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"The Living Roof Project initially started as a solution targeted towards combatting air pollution in urban communities and automotive factories. It has mainly remained this way due to its relative obscurity and its exceedingly high cost of installation. During this summer, I was privileged enough to take a tour of the most advanced Living Roof in the world at the California Institute of Science and Technology and I was shocked at how simple of a concept could have such an immense environmental impact. After my visit, I could not stop thinking about all the applications of Living Roof’s that would be possible if its implementation was just made more cost efficient and practical, and if it was better advertised to the rest of the world. It was then, after several weeks of designing and planning, that I brought this concept to Athens High School.
A living roof is, in its essence, a rooftop garden. An expert at the California Institute described it as if the ground was lifted up, and a building was slid beneath it. Having these layers of soil supporting the growth of plants on the roof of any building has a plethora of environmental and economic benefits that my high school was desperately in need of at the time. The roof of the school was made of concrete, like most buildings, but this caused a lot of problems. During the below-freezing winters of Michigan, the heating system of the school had to work ridiculously hard to keep the school warm, since a majority of the hot air was able to simply go right through the roof. This led to many classrooms experiencing up to 15 degrees below room temperature during school hours, and four days of no school simply due to cold temperature alone. The living roof is able to fix these problems since the layers of soil form an extremely effective layer of insulation that keeps the heat in. This leads to less energy expenditures from the outdated heating system of the school, lower heat bills, and a better classroom environment.
Another problem addressed by the living roof was stormwater drainage. The roof, as it is, is completely flat, so during heavy rains, the water collects in heavy amounts and simply stagnates on top of my high school. This stagnation poses risks for bacterial infection, and several teachers had reported the water actually dripping down through the roof onto the walls of their classrooms, permanently staining them. The living roof fixed this issue since the layers of soil were simply able to absorb the water. This greatly reduced water damage repair fees, and made Athens safer for my peers to learn in.
While air pollution is a more serious problem for factories and power plants, most high schools would benefit from it as well. In addition to the pollutants released by the machinery powering the school, chemistry and other science classes often utilize fume hoods for the disposal of dangerous chemicals. Odorants and other dangerous particles are simply released into the air above the school without undergoing any sort of filtration. As mentioned earlier, the presence of plants on the living roof provide a necessary means of filtration that was lacking earlier.
Finally, as an added bonus, the plants that were selected for the living roof were verified by the Organization for Bat Conservation to prove that they promote a healthier ecosystem that could help rejuvenate the declining bat population in Michigan. In my area especially, the bat population is directly correlated with overall ecological welfare.
Before any of the designing or planning was done, most of these potential benefits mentioned were evident. The problem lied in how to build the roof so that it was cost-effective, of good quality, and desirable to help maintain by volunteers at Athens High School as well as the rest of the Troy community.
To deal with high costs, I abandoned the use of Seedum, the first choice of most large corporations, and instead designed and adopted a multi-layered complex consisting of weed membranes, pond liner, gravel, soil, mulch, topsoil, and, of course, plant seeds. This reduced the cost from $1,500 per 300 sq ft to approximately $530 per 300 sq ft. The reduced cost also includes the price of the 80 border stones needed to keep the rooftop garden, or living roof, in a compact area. Two full months were spent researching every component of this complex to ensure that a high quality was maintained. This is why that this complex is resistant to termites, some invasive species, and the plants are all hypo-allergenic (a necessity since there are air vents on the roof).
To increase awareness and support for the roof, I utilized the help of many teachers. At one of the pep assemblies, the varsity basketball team was dressed up as bats, updates about the living roof were reported on the morning announcements, idea brainstorming sessions were held by the Athens Biology Club and the Environmental Club, and social media was used to spread the word even more.
In addition to this, I managed to obtain a $5,000 Innovations grant from the Troy School District, and State Farm has indicated that they will be sending a $1,000 grant in addition to this. Several other grants are pending currently.
Currently, this is the status of the Living Roof Project for Athens High School
• Approval to build has been granted at all levels. The principal of Athens High School in addition to the Troy School District Supervisor of Construction have both given approval.
• The roof has been mapped out. A map of the roof has been drawn and divided into grids of where the living roof should be laid to ensure maximum effectiveness without interfering with any machinery that is already on the roof and needs to remain there. Border stone approximations and partitioning of the complex has been done as well.
• All tools, materials, and construction requirements have been determined, tested (when applicable), and verified through testing or higher authority (we consulted Hortech Co. and Telly’s to verify that all of the tools and materials were appropriate).
• Volunteers have been recruited. Over 80 people have stated that they are interested and have signed up for helping with maintanence once the entire Living Roof is laid down, but for the preliminary (pre-build) stage, 17 volunteers showed significant contribution.
• Accessories are being developed. An android app that pairs a smartphone with a separate device that measures soil moisture, which then notifies the phone by text message when water content is low has been developed; but, there are a few bugs that are getting worked out. Also, a drone may be used to stream live feed from the roof if needed.
• A living roof prototype has been laid down on Athens.

Unfortunately, the living roof will only be able to be expanded to fully cover Athens High School after the coming summer, since the school is undergoing some construction. However, the prototype has let us know that there are no unforeseen issues with construction.
The Apprentice Ecologist Project has truly been an enriching experience. I am now confident in my ability to start something new and broaden my horizons. Many tasks that seem daunting at first are really not that scary once you find an innovative way to tackle them. Also, while this is true, finding that innovative way does take a lot of hard work and constant, repetitive failure. However, this experience has taught me not to be discouraged by one, two, or one-hundred and eighty-four failures (but who’s counting?); persistence and dedication to make a beneficial change in my community led to fantastic results, so the hard work eventually pays off! In the future, I, of course, first plan to expand the living roof to its full and needed capacity on the roof of Athens High School. From here, however, I plan to, and already have started to, advertise the concept to other schools to turn a small endeavor to a potentially global phenomenon that I hope other schools will be willing to give a shot. It would be a huge step in promoting environmental welfare.
Date: December 31, 2015 Views: 864 File size: 37.6kb : 350 x 263
Hours Volunteered: 102
Volunteers: 17
Authors Age & Age Range of Volunteers: 15 & 14 to 40
Area Restored for Native Wildlife (hectares): .1
Native Trees Planted: 2
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