New UI facility features green roof


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Local medical researchers have a greener outlook than ever before.

The 200,000-square-foot, six-story University of Iowa Pappajohn Biomedical Discovery Building will house the latest in medical technology and will also host the university’s first-ever green roof.

“It’s a very serene and beautiful thing to see,” said  Darice Baxter, UI Facilities Management environmental specialist.

Five unique mixtures of colorful plants and foliage, currently in full bloom, spread across 6,440-square-feet of roof.  It incorporates several different microclimates that allow for a wide variety of plants.

Personnel have been moving in to the recently completed building for the past couple weeks, and they will continue in the coming months.

Roof Top Sedums, based in Davenport, grew the pre-vegetated modules before they were shipped and installed at the building site.

The cost of the project is hard to determine because its construction was a part of the general bid of nearly $126 million for the building, said Wendy Moorehead, the strategic communications manager for Facilities Management.

She said the university wouldn’t have built the green roof if it had not been cost-effective.

The greenery is a key component of the building’s gold-level Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification. 

LEED recognizes best-in-class building strategies and practices with certifications that range from simply “certified” to “platinum.”  The gold ranking is the second highest possible and is based on the number of points awarded.

It will save on energy costs by keeping the building warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer, which will reduce the amount of artificial temperature management required, Baxter said.

Most importantly it functions as a way of mitigating runoff from rainfall that would otherwise go into the watershed. Officials must account for the runoff for all buildings constructed in Iowa City before and after the facilities’ completion.

There are many different rainwater mitigation systems in place across the UI campus, such as large chambers beneath some parking ramps, which help to mitigate erosion. 

The green roof’s 6 inches of soil helps to significantly reduce runoff, Baxter said.

“It’s one of the most innovative ways of preventing runoff,” she said.

Not only that, it also helps to lessen the urban heat island effect. 

When water is still on rooftops during hot days, it is vaporized at an increased rate, contributing to spikes in humidity and temperature.

All the water absorbed by the green roof remains in the natural water cycle and is filtered by the plants before being released. Baxter said it keeps the water cleaner than if it were put into the sewer system and subsequent water treatment.

Not only that, but it lengthens the lifespan of the roof by reinforcing the roof membranes.

Aesthetically, it adds character to the building and provides a visual change of pace for surrounding pedestrians and offices workers to enjoy. 

“I was at a conference center that had [a green roof] in Nashville, and it was a really cool thing to see,” said George McCrory, a communications specialist at the UI Office of Sustainability.

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