Green Roof
Alfred E. Smith Career and Technical High School is the first public school in the city with a green roof. Photo by Lisha Arino

Alfred E. Smith is first school in city topped by plantings

The new roof on Alfred E. Smith Career and Technical Education High School is for the birds. And the bees and butterflies.

The roof, delivered by truck on Oct. 16, is made up of several rows of black planters, filled with a few inches of soil from which low-growing plants sprout. The school has added a raised beds, which will be used to grow vegetables.

Environmentalists see such “green roofs” as a new tool to combat pollution and save energy. The installation on a portion of the Mott Haven high school makes Alfred E. Smith the first public school in the city to have one.

The roof was a joint project between the school and Sustainable South Bronx, the Hunts Point-based environmental organization, which installed the roof and secured the $45,000 it cost from the City Gardens Club of New York City and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.

“To see it all come together, it’s just an incredible experience to everybody that has been working on it,” said Mary Linn Hernandez, a senior. She said she was glad she got to see it while she was still a student, noting that a lot of alumni had worked to bring the roof to the school but didn’t get to see it put in place.

Proponents of green roofs say they cut down a building’s heating and cooling costs; they improve air quality; they attract birds and helpful insescts; and they hold the potential to clean up streams and rivers.

The school has already begun to incorporate the roof into its curriculum. A carpentry class constructed the raised plant beds. Daniel Torres, a junior at the school who is studying plumbing, is working on creating an irrigation system, with the help of one of his teachers.

For the students who have chosen to specialize in architecture, home construction, plumbing, or heating and cooling ventilation, the roof comes just in time. Come 2014, those specializations will no longer be offered. Smith will limit its curriculum to automotive repair.

It took four years and much effort to bring the roof to Mott Haven. The saga began in 2006,  when the City Gardens Club approached Sustainable South Bronx. The club was looking for a school that would be right for a green roof, said Miquela Craytor, Sustainable South Bronx’s executive director.

Not long after, Nathaniel Wight, the school’s speech pathologist and science club director, took his students to Sustainable South Bronx’s offices for a field trip.

Craytor told him that they had funds in hand and were  looking for a school, Wright said.

According to Craytor, “It was very serendipitous. It seemed to happen at the right time.”

And Smith was the right place. Both institutions are located in the South Bronx. As a career and technical high school, the roof would provide a real-world application for its coursework.

However, getting the job done was far from easy. The School Construction Authority had to approve the project. But Sustainable South Bronx and the School faced a problem: how do you ask a government agency for permission to build something that has never been built before?

“When you confront people in the facilities office and the School Construction Authority and say ‘We’re going to do this’ they’re like, ‘No you’re not. What do you mean?’” Wight said.

Students explained how green roofs worked to construction authority engineers who visited the school, and urged them to approve the project, Melany Javier, who graduated from Smith in May, recalled.

Once the agency approved the roof, it took nine months of planning before it could be installed, said Michael Cluer, the project manager who oversaw the installation.

The roof will be maintained by Sustainable South Bronx’s job-training program, which equips adults with “green” construction skills. Students, too,  will continue to have access to it.

A version of this story appeared in the Fall 2010 issue of the Mott Haven Herald.

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