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When Green Equals Green

Thursday, February 21, 2019
students on green roof

Trinity’s Center for the Sciences and Innovation’s green roof project receives SA Tomorrow’s Sustainability Award

by Carla Sierra

When it came time to design Trinity’s Center for the Sciences and Innovation (CSI), who better to collaborate with than the scientists who would be inhabiting the space and the University’s sustainability experts who would be maintaining it? It took this team of experts coming together to create a rooftop utopia that today was awarded an SA Tomorrow Sustainability Award from the City of San Antonio’s Office of Sustainability.

CSI’s green roof project has been recognized for its holistic building design, as well as meeting the objectives of sustainability that are at the forefront of combating global warming not only on the world stage, but also within our San Antonio community.

The CSI green roof was an integral part of Trinity’s science program goals from the start of the CSI building’s design process. Beginning in 2008, the University set out to build a facility that brought the scientific disciplines into closer and more regular engagement; showcased the excitement of science, technology, and natural history; maintained the integrity of the campus’ O’Neil Ford architecture and its roots in a barren downtown quarry as well as Texas’ ranching tradition; and integrated design into the interactions between faculty members, students, the learning environment, and the learning tasks (pedagogy). This design also contributed to LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification attainment in 2018.

In addition to being a stormwater quality best management practice, the green roof functions as a successful gathering place on campus, an outdoor classroom, a sustainable design demonstration garden, and an urban wildlife habitat.

The green roof water catchment system and adjacent bioswale manage stormwater onsite, reducing runoff pollutants such as metals, oils, grease, sediment, pet/wildlife waste (E.coli), grass clippings, herbicides, and pesticides that would otherwise be carried into the storm drains and eventually into the nearby San Antonio River. Trinity uses the collected rainwater to irrigate the green roof plants—all native species that are drought tolerant and require very little supplemental irrigation. The green roof also provides a habitat for wildlife and supports the conservation of native species biodiversity, such as native grasses and flowering plants that attract pollinators that include butterflies and hummingbirds, all of which are constant visitors to the green roof.

Increased green space sequesters carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas pollutant, and the green roof does the same—it insulates the building so it requires less energy and lower carbon output for heating and cooling. In addition, the plants on the green roof absorb incident radiation, mitigating the heat island effect, which can affect communities by increasing summertime peak energy demand, air conditioning costs, air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, heat-related illness and mortality, and water quality.

The green roof’s natural effects on sustainability and wildlife are obvious, while the health benefits are subtler—simply put, “Trinity’s green roof is a calming place to be,” says Kelly Lyons, professor of biology at Trinity, and also associate editor for Invasive Science and Management and president of the Society for Ecological Restoration in Texas. “It is a place of contemplation to combat daily stress and nature deficit disorder, and increases awareness of the value of natural capital.”

Trinity’s team of experts who helped bring this project to the forefront with the City of San Antonio includes:

  • Bobby Eichholz, Rialto Studios, landscape architect, concept/design
  • Kelly Lyons, Trinity professor of biology
  • David Ribble, Trinity associate vice president for Academic Affairs, professor of biology, and CSI building shepard
  • John Greene, Trinity former director of planning and sustainability
  • Leopoldo Vasquez and his team, Trinity grounds supervisor
  • Leslie Bleamaster III, Trinity CSI facilities manager
  • Ernesto Gonzalez, Trinity associate director of Facilities Services
  • The many students who have helped weed this very special rooftop paradise