The Germantown Friends School (GFS) green roof was designed by Roofmeadow® of Mt. Airy. (Photos courtesy of Roofmeadow®)

by Lou Mancinelli

Student-grown zucchinis, tomatoes and much more may rise one day soon from the roof of the South Philadelphia High School. That’s where an urban roof farm designed by the landscape architecture firm Roofmeadow® (located right above Chef Ken’s and InFusion in the old Sedgwick Theater building in Mt. Airy) might be constructed as part of a master green plan for the 5.5-acre site that would be installed in phases. A drive to raise $26,300 through the neighborhood improvement crowd-funding website/platform Projexity to develop the plan has been launched by the school through a collaboration between the Lower Moyamensing Civic Association (LoMo) and community members. It concludes June 9.

The school and civic group have worked together since 2009 to develop green entities like building two gardens and planting trees.

“We sort of thought a master plan would be the next logical step to tie it altogether,” said Kim Massare, president of LoMo.

The South Philadelphia High School campus, which includes an asphalt parking lot, represents an underutilized community asset that could be retrofitted with green infrastructure that could have a positive, immediate and lasting effect on local storm water management capabilities.

It will also contribute to the school’s agricultural program, which provides students the chance to learn about growing vegetables and more. Community members may one day purchase plums raised on the roof of their local public high school.

“What we’re interested in at this site is finding innovative ways to bring green roof technology to the ground,” said Lauren Mandel, a designer for Roofmeadow®, a firm that works nationally as well as locally, specializing in green roofs.

According to Mandel, that could mean designing a system that drains storm water vertically in places where concrete cannot be moved. That drainage could be realized through a series of thin landscaping elements installed on top of the concrete. Roof farms have been fabricated in places like San Francisco and Brooklyn’s Eagle Street Rooftop Farm. Determining costs is not possible at this time because a specific plan has yet to be developed. The rooftop “farm” might be as large as 20,000 square feet.

In addition to serving as one of the lead designers on the rooftop farm, Mandel recently participated with other Roofmeadow® employees in the nationwide “Soak It Up!” competition, a design challenge hosted by the Community Design Collaborative and the Philadelphia Water Department.

The competition solicited proposals from multidisciplinary design teams for projects that would retrofit three sites in Philadelphia, one industrial, one commercial and one residential, with state-of-the-art storm water management infrastructure, better known as green or sustainable infrastructure.

Roofmeadow® was part of the winning team for a submission to transform an industrial site that includes a Pathmark at 29th and Grays Ferry Avenue into a modern storm water mediating marvel. While the plans are conceptual, they are often used to kickstart community discussion. Funding can be easier to realize when plans are already in front of potential investors.

“We were trying to develop interesting, beautiful measures that are visible and manage storm water,” said Melissa Muroff, vice president of Roofmeadow® and a 10-year Mt. Airy resident.

Four of 10 Roofmeadow® staffers live in Mt. Airy. They usually walk or bicycle to work. Two others live in Germantown and Erdenheim. The company, which focuses on green roofs, was first founded under the name Roofscapes in 1997 in the McCallum Street home of Charlie Miller.

The rooftop farm that is planned at South Philadelphia High School represents an innovative opportunity to strengthen the connection between schools and their surrounding neighborhoods. Improved green infrastructure, experts say, also leads to improved air quality.

Roofmeadow® green roofs are also on the following buildings in Northwest Philadelphia: Germantown Friends School in Germantown, LaSalle University’s Holroyd Hall in Ogontz, All Seasons Car Wash in Roxborough/Manayunk and Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education in the Andorra section of upper Roxborough. The firm has also pledged to do pro bono work building a green roof on the Wissahickon Charter School canopy, 4700 Wissahickon Ave. in East Falls.

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