by David Jonas Bardin
Seeking information on a green roof construction project at the University of the District of Columbia, I discovered something much more exciting: A nearly complete research station for urban farming.
High above Van Ness Street, on the roof and penthouse of the university’s Building 44, UDC is installing a teaching, research and demonstration facility for its College of Agriculture, Urban Sustainability, and Environmental Sciences.
CAUSES Dean Sabine O’Hara sees UDC’s rooftop gardening research as a means to enhance urban food production (especially on roofs, and perhaps balconies and land with shallow topsoil), create “green jobs,” and improve storm water management. William Hare, CAUSES Associate Dean for Programs, gave me a tour and provided photographs.
Rather than one green roof installation, there are several – covering about 18,000 square feet. Some are extensive (shallow), and others are intensive (deeper). There are raised beds with walkways for ready access. Around the periphery are close to 100 planter boxes of adjustable depth. There is also a restored greenhouse.
CAUSES plans to construct a hydroponics lab adjacent to the greenhouse.
Dean Hare says CAUSES will raise diverse food and landscaping plants in the greenhouse and plant them in varied outdoor beds to find out what works best for rooftop agriculture in our climate. CAUSES faculty and students will manage the project. Hare hopes neighbors will participate by adopting a planter, weeding and caring for it, and contributing to the research.
An elevator in Building 44 (from UDC’s Denard Plaza or “A” level) reaches the penthouse, which houses CAUSES classrooms and will provide public access to the roof.
UDC will harvest the rainwater from the penthouse roof and store it in a cistern. CAUSES will measure, record and analyze water quantity and quality of this rainwater as well as rain captured by beds and planters.
“The rainwater harvesting system will be used to irrigate the agricultural component, as well as other sections of the green roof, during dry periods,” says Matt Robinson of the District Department of the Environment.
The project has received support from DDOE, and Robinson says research, development, demonstration and stormwater flow reduction are the goals.
DDOE supplied about $930,000 toward the design and construction of the green roof and rainwater harvesting system on Building 44. According to the designer, the green roof and rainwater harvesting systems can capture as much as 11,500 gallons from a 1.7 inch rainfall. Otherwise, that rainwater would flow through a storm sewer into Soapstone Valley.
“DDOE used funding from the District’s MS4 Enterprise Fund,” Robinson says. “This funding is generated from the monthly stormwater fee charged to all property owners within the District.”
DDOE also helped fund the design and construction of stormwater management components of the new UDC plaza deck, as well as designs for other green roofs for the campus, which UDC hopes to install later.