By Clark Davis

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September 11, 2013 · Marshall University’s college of science is conducting an experiment that they hope will help them in the future.

The Marshall University College of Science installed a green roof in a small space just off the second floor of the science building. It’s the beginning of an experiment that will illustrate what it will take to maintain larger green roofs on the biotech building on campus. That building is being constructed. It’ll also play a role in Marshall’s continued effort to better handle storm water.

Chuck Somerville is the dean of the College of Science.

“This is a demonstration. It’s a small area and it’s not going to have a big impact on storm water on campus, but it’s in a visible place and people can come by and see it and we can put up signage about what a green roof does and how it works,” Somerville said. “So we can get a lot of educational bang for their buck, rather than storm water treatment or storm water retention.”

It’s a process that has been several years in the making. Somerville said after seeing facilities out of the state that were using the idea, they thought they should try it on the science building.

“We’ve had to go to a company that produces the plants and does the design and go through the design process and just growing the plants is about a 6 to 8 month project there,” Somerville said.

Eventually Somerville said the roof was ready for planting. They recently put in plants that include geraniums and irises. He said after going through the process of making sure the roof could handle the weight, water and soil, they now know what to expect at the new biotech facility.

“We have a green roof planned for the new building. Actually it’s going to be engineered into the structure so this was an add-on after this building was long since built,” Somerville said.

Travis Bailey is an Environmental Specialist with the Health and Safety Department on campus. He’s tasked with helping the campus become more responsible for storm water. He said this is just one of the newer ways to deal with the water.

“A green roof is basically to capture the water and the let plants absorb it and if it doesn’t let it slow down and filter the water out, filter out the pollutants that are in the air, rather than that water going straight down the drain and potentially out to the river,” Bailey said. “It’s not being absorbed by the soils and filtered out, but for the most part we’re hoping that the plants will uptake and use most of that water,” Bailey said.

Huntington has a combined sewer system, meaning sanitary sewage and storm water runoff collect in the same pipes. Because of this the Environmental Protection Agency charges organizations like Marshall to collect the first inch of water for each building. So Bailey and others have started projects like the green roof, a rain garden and other means to collect this water all around campus.

Bailey said he hopes these projects show it’s possible to do these projects.

 “And to show people a green roof is doable, it’s not a mythical thing you hear about other cities doing. We’re showing that you can do it here. It can be done here and same thing with the rain gardens,” Bailey said. “People read about them or have heard about them and it’s like you can’t do it here, but we’re trying to show that it can be done here and we’re gearing up to do some more hopefully.”

Bailey said green roofs also can have a positive effect on stopping ultraviolet rays from harming the roof.