Cleveland State University

University Advancement News

Students Lead Roof Top Garden Project

Realizing that the new LEED-certified Recreation Center at Cleveland State was initially designed for a rooftop garden that was not installed due to budgetary constraints, two undergraduate students majoring in Environmental Studies have taken it upon themselves to complete the project.  Seeing it as more than an outdoor lounge, they have also recognized the educational benefits the project could bring to and beyond the university.  Their story is worth sharing.    

The project itself is not complicated.  The existing roof has the structural support and water barrier needed for a rooftop garden.   To construct it, landscape design is estimated at $20,000; materials, with no-cost volunteer labor, is estimated at $150,000; and the general conditions, overhead, profit, and project contingency are estimated at $54,000.

What is more remarkable are the ways the two students who are steering the project will fund it and use it. The students – Erin Huber and LeeAnn Westfall – have taken the responsibility to raise the total funds needed – $240,000 – by way of a very creative process: they are approaching local and nation-wide foundations for half of the total funds needed – $120,000 – and have challenged the students of the Class of 2009 and the CSU faculty to commit one quarter of the total funds needed – $60,000 – for the project.  If the students and faculty are successful, the university has agreed to match that amount with $60,000, which completes the necessary funding.

Also impressive are the educational benefits they have created around the project.  These benefits fall into three categories:

  1. Undergraduate, graduate, and faculty research.  Students in the Biological, Geological, and Environmental Science department (BEGES) will use experimental green roof plots to conduct research training in sustainable methods for urban ecosystems with a particular emphasis on Northeast  Ohio.
  2. Public school teacher training programs.  The rooftop experimental plots will be used in conjunction with programs in CSU’s College of Education to train Cleveland area teachers in green roof technology, building, and planning for Cleveland area schools. 
  3. Public and private school student education.  Cleveland State University routinely hosts summer and school-year programs for area public school children.  The green roof will be incorporated into these settings.  Westfall and Huber are also creating an educational hallway to assist Cleveland State students who mentor the children as a teaching aid on green architecture, LEED Certification, and the benefits of roof top gardens in urban environments.  Local school children will also assist Cleveland State University students during the installation of the vegetation.

Misses Westfall and Huber have also investigated and defined the environmental benefits of the project:

  1. Storm water runoff.  Increased vegetation in Cleveland’s urban environment will slow and filter storm water runoff.  Cleaner, slower moving water filtering through green roof plantings will improve the water quality of surrounding waterways (i.e. Lake Erie) and will relieve stress and overflow issues in Cleveland’s storm water sewer system.
  2. Increased valuable habitat.  Habitat for birds, insects, butterflies, worms and other organisms will be increased in Cleveland’s urban environment.   The green roof plantings will provide nesting, mating, and safe areas for organisms normally struggling to survive in cement-sculpted urban environments.
  3. Pollutant removal from air and water.  Green roof plantings will remove smog and pollutants such as carbon dioxide (a green house gas) from the air. Pollutants (i.e. heavy metals or particulates) carried to the roof through rainfall will be filtered by the vegetation rather than running off cement surfaces directly into the local water supply or surrounding sensitive streams.
  4. Increased energy efficiency.  Green rooftops have proven to reduce heating and cooling costs because of the insulation and heat barrier they provide.  Reduced use of electricity from coal-fired power plants results in reduced green house gases, harmful particulates, and other toxins from being emitted through the production of less electricity.

Beyond the costs listed above, the project will eventually require a small endowment to maintain the garden and plantings. Anyone interested in learning more about this project, or wishing to make a contribution, to contact Erin Huber and LeeAnn Westfall (csurooftop@gmail.com), Kathleen Kulik, Coordinator of Young Alumni Engagement (k.kulik@csuohio.edu or 216.523.7289) or Chuck Schuller, College of Education and Human Services Development Director (c.schuller@csuohio.edu or 216.523.7295).

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