Lessons from green roofs at St. Paul and Elk River schools

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Folks in Elk River and St. Paul now have green plants up in the sky. That’s because Elk River’s Twin Lakes Elementary School, and Community of Peace (CPA), a St. Paul chartered public school, have installed “green roofs.” Everything I read urges communities to adopt this idea.

Beth Pearson, a Research Specialist at the University of Wisconsin/Milwaukee Great Lakes Water Institute says that green roofs provide “immediate benefits to the environment, both inside and outside a building.” That’s because they help conserve energy inside a building, and help generate valuable oxygen outside.

The green roof at Community of Peace is open, and hosted students, faculty, St. Paul mayor Chris Coleman, and other elected officials last week. Kong Khang, 18, CPA student council president, explained in a speech that he had asked students how they felt about the green roof. One student urged that the school start a gardening club. Khang smiled “Man, this person stole my idea!” He also mentioned “Some students can’t wait until spring comes so they could see the flowers.” There are 50,000 plants (right, 50,000) on the roof.”
Community of Peace, a 13-year-old charter public school enrolls a diverse group of 640 students, gradesK-12, plus 30 pre-kindergarten students. The U.S. Department of Education and Center for Education Reform have recognized CPA as one of the nation’s outstanding charter public schools. The school has been cited for programs that teach character and “peace-making” – and the ability to get along with others.

Principal and founder Dr. Karen Rusthoven sees the new roof as “one more step toward our goals of helping students achieve their potential, and being a constructive positive force in St. Paul.”

Dan Collins, principal at Twin Lakes says that helping to design the school was “a once in a lifetime opportunity.” The school includes several features designed to save energy and enhance learning. Mike Schrock, A.I.A, and lead architect for the building described “light tubes” that bring natural light into the building, thus saving on electricity costs. Collins agrees: Twin Lakes has “a huge amount of natural light.”

Deb Rathman, Lead architect at CPA believes green roofs are “a great option for schools. Schrock agrees, “The environmental benefits mean we’ll see a lot more of these. Flat roofs make sense for many schools, Adding plants on them reduces the energy needed to heat and cool buildings.” Come spring, sedum flowers in many colors will open.

Twin Lakes’ green roof is nearing completing. Tom Walerius, Elk River Assistant Superintendent, noted there are a few details to be worked out before students can visit the roof. One issue is handicapped accessibility. Schrock ‘s design included rubber pavers, allowing wheel chair bound students to move on the roof. But pebble paths were installed. “We’re talking with the contractor about this,” he says.

Beyond the green roofs, these two schools illustrate something else. There is so much to be learned from innovative, effective district and chartered public schools. We must get better at spreading what the most talented educators have created.