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From roof to hearts, greening at Regis High School, New York, USA

16 December 2011

Exterior of Regis High School, New York, USA. Photo Credit: Regis High School

Philipp Judge, SJ

The resources we enjoy today, the power and secrets of science we have discovered, cannot be absorbed by the narrow system of individual and national divisions which have so far served the leaders of the world.

The age of nations is past. The task before us now, if we would not perish, is to shake off our ancient prejudices, and to build the earth.

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, SJ, Building the Earth

Green roof, Regis High School. Photo Credit: Regis High School

We at Regis High School in New York City thought a quotation from Chardin, who spent his final days in the Jesuit community here, would be fitting for a dedication plaque on our green roof which we planted a year ago.  What can a hundred year old, neo-classical building in the heart of a world city possibly teach us about environmental responsibility?  Quite a lot, actually.  What began as a quest to save money on operations revealed a shocking amount of wasted resources – from paper used at alarming rates to light bulbs burning 24-7 and lighting the way to nothing.  A little study by administrators turned us to sustainability.

Green roof, Regis High School. Photo Credit: Regis High School

In 2007, we replaced all of our incandescent lights with CFL (compact fluorescent light) bulbs and put most lights on sensors.  In 2012, we will replace the lights again with LED (light-emitting diode) fixtures as we have in our gym, reducing electric use by more than half (and costs as well).  Faculty and students learned about everything from plug loads (appliances drawing power just by being plugged in) to recycling efforts.  Small changes make a difference.  Do you need to copy that?  Do you need that one-sided?  Why mail that?  Turn it off.  Just as fasting in Lent makes us pay attention, so do changed habits turn us to larger issues of resources and conservation.

Gym lights using LED fixtures, Regis High School. Photo Credit: Regis High School

The visual highlight of our efforts is the green roof.  At 20,000 square feet, it was the second largest in New York City when it opened.  It was unused flat space covered with black roofing material, contributing to the urban heat island effect in Manhattan and not helping storm run-off issues.  Oh, the roof was also leaking pretty badly in 2008 and it needed replacement.  A lot of extra planning and about a 20% increase in cost brought us an oasis on top of the school.  Ranging from four to nine inches in depth, the roof is planted with a variety of growth from grasses to sedum.  A green roof should last twice as long as a regular roof, reduces storm run-off, cools the air around our solar panels (they provide 5% of our electricity) and air conditioner intakes, and is a beautiful spot to bring a class or take a break.  Beehives provide honey and subjects for science study and an herb garden produces for our cafeteria.  A new lab space is home to environmental science study and serves as a closet where the school telescope lives.  Weather instruments and native planting data are shared as part of a study with Columbia University.

“Greening” is sustaining.  It is the future.  Visit our website and click on “green roof data.”

Regis High School

55 East 84th Street

New York, New York

USA 10028

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