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Bronx Nonprofit Installs 'Green-and-Blue' Roof to Absorb Rainwater

By Patrick Wall | September 5, 2013 9:22am
 The Osborne Association's new roof will reduce storm runoff and cut energy costs.
Green-and-Blue Roof
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MELROSE — The Osborne Association, an agency that helps people with criminal pasts forge new lives, specializes in transformations.

They've now converted the once-leaky roof of its century-old headquarters on Westchester Avenue into a state-of-the-art “green and blue” rooftop whose new rows of vegetation and water trays will help prevent sewer overflows and save energy.

Osborne will also use the new $688,000 system to teach its clients green-job skills and to support its planned honey-making business.

“Today is really about second chances,” said Elizabeth Gaynes, Osborne’s executive director, at a rooftop ribbon cutting Wednesday.

The new greenery will absorb precipitation, filter air pollutants and keep the roof cool, while the stone-filled trays will catch and slowly release rainwater.

This rare combination of rooftop technologies will manage more than 100,000 gallons of rainwater per year and should cut runoff from the roof by a third, said city Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Carter Strickland.

“It’s one of the first of its kind in the country,” Strickland said.

During storms, the city’s combined sewer system — which sends rainwater and wastewater through the same pipes to treatment plants — can overflow and spew untreated sewage into the local waterways.

One method the city has tried to avert such overflows is to offer grants for green infrastructure projects on private spaces, such as blue or green roofs, rain gardens or water-absorbent pavement.

Since 2011, the DEP has given $11 million to 29 such projects, which contributed $5.4 million in matching funds. The city paid for $288,000 of Osborne’s roof system, while the agency covered the rest.

“It’s the most cost-effective way to prevent overflows,” and, in turn, keep sewage out of the city’s waterways, Strickland said.

The old roof at Osborne’s headquarters at 809 Westchester Ave., which was built in 1911, once leaked so much that workers kept open umbrellas over their desks.

The new system fixes those leaks, provides added insulation that should cut energy costs and, because it combines the lighter “blue” components with the heavier vegetation, is not too heavy.

Clients in the agency’s green-jobs training program will be able to work on the roof system.

Another set of beneficiaries are the thousands of bees that live in a rooftop apiary managed by Dr. Todd Patton, the Osborne’s medical director and a trained beekeeper.

Patton already leads a one-day beekeeping class for clients and uses some as assistants.

Now, the agency is planning to add more hives to turn the apiary into a self-sustaining, client-run business that will sell wax and honey and could even supply Osborne’s in-house catering service.

The new rooftop is ideal for the bees, which can drink the mineral-rich tray water and suck up nectar and pollen from the plants, Patton said.

“I’m really seeing this as a vision,” he said, “of what urban rooftops can turn into.”