LeadingAge Magazine · September/October 2014 • Volume 04 • Number 05

Green Roof Brings Nature to Urban CCRC

August 23, 2014 | by Bridget Forney

An accomplished resident’s vision and expertise, along with support from other residents, staff and the board, led to this CCRC’s installation of a “green roof” that brings aesthetic and environmental benefits to the community.

Author’s note: Dr. Michael Beer generously and whole-heartedly contributed his time and knowledge to this article when it was written and was a passionate advocate for environmental sustainability who took any and all measures available to raise awareness about its importance. Sadly, Dr. Beer passed away on Aug. 23, 2014. He will be missed by residents and staff alike and his passion for environmental science has inspired other green initiatives at Roland Park Place, which the community’s residents will continue to pursue in his honor.

If you want to change the world, as the old adage goes, the best place to start is your own backyard. Dr. Michael Beer did exactly that when he successfully campaigned for the installation of a “green roof” at the only not-for-profit continuing care retirement community in Baltimore City. Beer, a retired professor of biophysics, was the former chair of the Jones Falls Watershed Association, now Blue Water Baltimore, an organization committed to restoring the quality of Baltimore’s rivers, streams and harbor.

Beer was also well-known for his work on DNA and electron microscopy at Johns Hopkins University, and in Baltimore for his hands-on environmental leadership, particularly with the Jones Falls and Stony Run Park Restoration, a project with a long and storied history of dedication in Baltimore City. The Stony Run is a stream that begins below ground in northern Baltimore and flows approximately 3.3 miles south before emptying into the Jones Falls, a major river that flows right through Baltimore and has had an important role in the development and history of the area. The entire Stony Run watershed covers more than 2,000 acres, a tributary that Beer was devoted to for more than 20 years.

After moving to the historic Roland Park neighborhood in the 1960s, Beer, born in Hungary, planted and maintained trees, researched and introduced native plant species to the park, and carefully logged and tracked every species to monitor its progress. He also lobbied the mayor’s office, starting with Mayor William Donald Schaefer in the 1970s, to recruit volunteers to assist in cleaning up the Stony Run watershed.

For someone who made the restoration of Stony Run a lifelong passion, Roland Park Place was a natural fit for Beer. The not-for-profit retirement community is located less than a half-mile from the Stony Run stream, slightly north of Johns Hopkins University. Because of Beer’s persistence and dedication to raising awareness among residents and staff about the project, RPP installed the community’s first-ever “extensive” green roof over its John Short Dining Room in the spring of 2014.

There are three types of green roof (“extensive,” “semi-intensive” or “intensive”), each characterized by the type of vegetation used, maintenance requirements and irrigation requirements. For more on the technical aspects of the three types of roof, click here.

Roland Park Place’s roof has been transformed from a flat, pebble-lined surface to 7,000 square feet of special grasses and sedum that absorb water, provide insulation, filter pollutants and, most importantly to Beer, reduce storm water runoff. As an “extensive” green roof system, it requires little maintenance and no permanent irrigation system. For Beer, RPP’s green roof is another way to bring nature to an urban environment and further nurture the Stony Run. On the green roof, the soils and the root systems can hold considerable water (up to one inch worth of rain, he says). Therefore, the usual gush of rain that falls off the roof will be reduced and delayed, which in turn reduces contamination, stream bank erosion, and silting in Baltimore’s harbor and the Chesapeake Bay.

Beer also noted that Baltimore collects a run-off tax based on a property’s “impermeable surfaces” such as parking lots and roofs; the green roof’s ability to hold water allows Roland Park Place to get a credit against the tax.

“Stony Run and the Jones Falls are near and dear to my heart. Green roofing in cities is a huge help in reducing rain water runoff to city streams and waterways like these,” said Beer. “Aside from all of its other obvious traditional green benefits, this cause will nurture Baltimore’s tributaries in the long run and benefit families and children in this city for generations to come.”

In addition to Roland Park Place’s close proximity to Stony Run, Beer valued the expertise, passion and intellect of fellow residents and staff at Roland Park Place who were open and supportive of his campaign for the community to build a green roof that ultimately led to the project’s successful execution.

“With a passion for environmental sustainability, the new green roofing was an exciting cause for me,” said Beer. “The long-term benefits of this new roofing are undeniable, and I am so grateful to have the support and interest from leadership at Roland Park Place to make this happen.”

Roland Park Place had been looking for ways to increase and improve environmental sustainability on its campus and the green roof effort reflects the entire community’s enthusiastic attitude about “going greener.” “We are fortunate to have residents with decades of expertise and knowledge that facilitated the progression of the green roof idea,” says Terry Snyder, president of Roland Park Place. “Without the continued support, interest and background in sustainable environments from our residents, it may not have come to fruition.”

The roof is already experiencing successful growth. Roland Park Place selected Bollinger Roofing and Furbish and Company to tag-team the project. Furbish developed RPP’s “EcoCline” green roofing in cooperation with the University of Maryland. This revolutionary roofing system is 90 percent recycled, and the two-inch profile installed at Roland Park Place manages as much storm water as a traditional green roof twice its weight and thickness.

The new extensive green roof is also resistant to harsh environmental rooftop conditions and virtually maintenance-free except for occasional weeding. The plants on the green roof will absorb radiant energy so that it doesn’t enter the building, maintaining temperatures below by providing insulation.

Environmental benefits notwithstanding, residents are delighted with the green roof and have been enchanted with watching the roof slowly develop and the plants take root and grow, some higher than 12 inches in just a few short months.

The aesthetic appeal of the green roof is obvious if you observe the reactions of onlookers, whether from an overlooking apartment balcony, or any one of the main building’s seven elevator lobbies, all of which feature a direct window view to the growing plants below.

More than 50 Roland Park Place residents live in apartments with balconies overlooking the green roof and the new green view replaces the former pebbled roof they once looked upon. “It’s been so interesting to watch the roof design develop from the perspective of the eighth floor, looking down,” says Ron Miller, a resident who shares an apartment overlooking the green roof with his wife. “They didn’t just plant in straight rows. You can see the curve and design of the landscape through the different mediums, soil and plant types they used. We’re anxious to watch it grow.”

The green roof project isn’t the first resident-led community effort to garner considerable support at Roland Park Place, and it likely won’t be the last, according to Snyder. “RPP is fortunate to have more than 25 different resident-led committees that contribute to the vibrancy of our community; many voices are heard and there are plenty of opportunities to get to know and support staff and neighbors, alike,” says Snyder. “The community and its residents are also very protective and cherishing of the rich history of the Roland Park neighborhood and Baltimore City, so RPP’s leadership and board are more than welcoming of ideas that present opportunities to revisit, aid or strengthen our ties to greater Baltimore.”