Inside Rensselaer
An artist’s concept of the new Union green roof. One of 18,000 plant “plugs” that will be installed.
Green Roof “Groundmaking”
April 22

It’s official: On Earth Day, the roof on the Rensselaer Union bookstore will debut its new look that will be growing all things green. Members of the campus community and alumni are invited to attend the inaugural “Green Roof Groundmaking” celebration on Friday, April 22, from noon to 1 p.m. on the Rensselaer Union southwest patio area.

The event promises to be a festive occasion, with remarks to be delivered by Grand Marshal Ben Hunt; Samuel Punshon-Smith ’10, former Class of 2010 President; Laban Coblentz, chief of staff and associate vice president for policy and planning; and President Shirley Ann Jackson. Following remarks, 100 student volunteers will plant 18,000 green plant plugs. Several other groups involved in the celebration planning include the Student Sustainability Task Force, Ecologic, and vendors from the RPI Farmers Market.

The idea to create a “green roof” on the Union bookstore has been germinating for some time. A green roof — an example of a sustainability concept — is a plant-based multipurpose roofing choice capable of rain water filtration and collection, thermal energy improvements, cleaner and cooler ambient air, and general public enjoyment. The Rensselaer green roof will feature a multicolor array of sedum plants in various shades of pink, rose, yellow, green, white, purple, blue, and green. The project also will include sensors that will compare temperature between a standard roof and a green roof.

The idea finally came to fruition when members of the Class of 2010 presented a unique and spirited gift to the university by raising all of the seed money needed to create a green roof. A long-standing tradition at Rensselaer, the class gift symbolizes a type of philanthropy that exhibits pride, loyalty, and devotion to the Institute.

“Three years ago, an RPI student came up with the idea for a green roof on the Union Bookstore,” said Hunt, who has served as a champion for the project along with various other student groups. “When the Student Sustainability Task Force partnered with the Class of 2010 to make this project a class gift, things really picked up. This is an inspiring partnership between students, alumni/ae, faculty, staff, and parents, the Institute, and President Jackson.”

To date, 285 individuals including students, alumni, faculty, staff, parents, and several organizations have donated funds to support the project, surpassing its goal of $55,000. Within this group, 249 members of the class — representing 22 percent — have donated to the project, a record participation level. Additional funding was provided by the President’s Office, the Rensselaer Alumni Association, the Admissions Office, and the Division of Human Resources. The class still hopes to raise additional funds to support short- and long-term maintenance needs, as well the development of a kiosk that explains the green roof concept.

“The green roof at Rensselaer will make a terrific addition to our campus, for several reasons,” said Coblentz. “It embodies — in a very tangible way — the sustainability movement that has taken root here at RPI in recent years. It will be a tool for education and research. It will be a centrally located ‘advertisement’ to attract new students to the various student eco-clubs. And because the green roof itself is a project conceived by students, led by students, and funded largely by voluntary contributions, it will truly be a community effort.”

According to Hunt, to capture the overall process in true Rensselaer fashion, RPI TV — in collaboration with the Student Senate Web Tech group — has created a “MacGyver-like weatherproof video camera” that is mounted on the Union balcony. In the coming weeks, the camera will record the roof construction and preliminary planting activities. Plans are under way to produce a time-lapse video of the footage upon completion of the filming.

To view a live web stream of the Class of 2010 green roof construction, visit

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Inside Rensselaer
Volume 5, Number 7, April 15, 2011
©2010 Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
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