It’s not every day that you see a roof with grass growing on top of it.
But there will be such a roof shortly, at the new Friends of the Hempstead Plains Educational Center. Why a grass roof at Nassau Community College? It’s because of forward-thinking Nassau Community College biology professor emeritus, Betsy Gulotta, conservation project manager for the Friends of the Hempstead Plains who is creating a smart, sustainable building, and grass is good for insulation.
The center is being built out of natural and recycled materials as part of an exciting contemporary architectural and design movement. These living roofs are mandatory for a percentage of new buildings in Germany but are fairly new in the United States.
Luckily, Gullota has the help of Garden City resident Michael Cassano. The 15-year-old Life Scout from St. Joseph's Church Troop 243, under the guidance of Scout Master Peter Noyes, gathered 30 volunteers this past Saturday.
"Eagle Scout projects are great examples of what our young men are capable of doing and demonstrate their ability to lead. By helping the community in such a meaningful way, it shows our young men that they can really make a difference," said Noyes.
With Gulotta, Cassano managed the preparation of 900 biotrays with intrinsic roof soil and the stratified seeds of five native prairie grasses for the roof. Biotrays are containers that are made of porous, biodegradable materials such as coconut husks and tree sap. Each is a portable container that can be moved to a roof after seedling growth is completed on the ground.
Seven hundred biotrays will be grown at the Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) site in Eisenhower Park over the summer. Nancy Youngfert, chairperson of the Horticulture Committee at CCE and former president of the board of directors remarked, “The Cornell Cooperative Extension staff and Master Gardener volunteers are happy to partner with the Friends of the Hempstead Plains as they continue to add to our understanding of the early landscape of Long Island.
"Eisenhower Park is part of the [original] Hempstead Plains, so it is fitting that we would help restore the native grasses. Since ‘citizen education’ is our mission, we felt very strongly that this was a project we were well suited to help carry out.”
Two hundred additional biotrays were distributed to be grown at volunteers’ homes until the fall. The biotrays will then be collected in the autumn by Cassano and volunteers to be placed on the living green roof once the new sustainable building is completed.
“Having a native grass roof will allow the Hempstead Plains Education Center building to blend in with the … Plains where it will be located. A native grass roof on the … building will help make the public aware of the importance of the small amount of the Plains that remain,” Cassano said.
Having this “also will teach the public the benefits of the living roof as it uses less energy … than a standard roof would due to its insulating properties. The roof is sustainable and should not need to be replaced...I will continue to work with Professor Gulotta on a science research project … with the biotrays,” he added.
Cassano is a Garden City High School freshman honor student. He has just been awarded a Gold Medal at the Long Island Math Fair for his work in mathematics research on cellular automata. He is the son of Dr. Michael Cassano and Dr. Maryanne Alongi Cassano.