Rooftop Garden at Cleveland State University is Endangered

by / Monday, 14 July 2014 / Published in Tips & Solution

CLEVELAND, Ohio — Cleveland State University is preparing to uproot the 5-year-old rooftop garden it received as a $250,000 class gift.

The probable end of the “green roof” has its supporters seeing red.

“I was told it’s a done deal that they’re getting rid of it,” said LeeAnn Westfall, one of the two environmental science students who spearheaded the project. “I’m beyond devastated.”

CSU spokesman Kevin Ziegler said the school plans to make a final decision about the roof garden by Tuesday, and is “evaluating options” that would keep some green or sustainable building element on the roof, within the school’s budget.

The school said the problem is leakage caused by the 7,000-square-foot garden atop the CSU Recreation Center — a reason that Westfall and others say doesn’t hold water.

A green roof, sometimes called a live roof, has insulating qualities that save energy, and can extend a building’s roof life 40 years by protecting it from weathering.

CSU’s Chester Avenue Rec Center, certified for energy efficiency, was supposed to get a roof garden when it was built eight years ago, but never got it due to budget cuts.

Westfall — founder of the Student Environmental Movement and Campus Sustainability Coalition at CSU — and fellow environmental science student Erin Huber spent more than two years on research, development, lobbying and fundraising to make the garden a reality.

Ultimately designated as a much-heralded gift to CSU from their respective classes of 2009 and 2010, the garden was installed in August 2009 with 15,000 plants. It was intended to serve as event space and as a study subject for the environmental science department.

But CSU’s chief financial officer, Stephanie McHenry, wrote last week in a letter to Westfall and Huber that “the academic and building-related benefits have been inadequately realized.

“In addition,” she said, “the installation has caused harmful leaks into the recreation center, a 110,000-square-foot state-of-the-art facility that is a prominent feature of the CSU campus. The roof must be repaired in a responsible manner to protect our $40 million investment.”

Westfall said it is not clear whether leakage was caused by the garden, whose installation was approved by architects and structural engineers, or by the later installation of a door “that was not part of what we did.”

Either way, she asked, “Why aren’t the architects and structural engineers being held accountable?”

An online petition posted in support of keeping the rooftop garden collected almost 350 signers in less than a week.

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