Schoonover Green Roof Adds Innovative Twist to Sustainability and Student Research

By Jack Knudson

When walking by the Schoonover Center for Communication, one might not notice anything different. However, just a few floors up, a vibrant assortment of plants covers the previously bare roof. In addition to the cosmetic upgrade, this new installation, called a “green roof,” makes Athens a more sustainable city while providing research opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students at Ohio University. 

The Schoonover green roof was installed this past July. It is an extensive green roof, meaning that it has lighter weight plants that are more drought-tolerant, as opposed to the larger shrub and tree contents of intensive green roofs. The roof features five plots of grasses and meadow plants, which will help reduce stormwater runoff. 

The addition of vegetation has greatly enhanced the roof’s permeability by allowing more rainwater to be soaked up instead of draining into the sewers below. Green roofs are especially popular in urban cities for this reason, but it turns out that this benefit still pertains to smaller cities like Athens. 


Kim Thompson, an associate professor in the Department of Environmental and Plant Biology, helped lead the charge for the establishment of the new green roof. She explains that the roof will improve water management in the city.

“If we have more vegetation on campus,” Thompson said, “that’s going to reduce the possibilities of flooding.”

Another benefit of the green roof is that it will reduce the effect of urban heat islands, which are  an areas that have an increased temperature from impermeable surfaces absorbing heat, like roads and rooftops. The name might imply that this problem is only faced by metropolitan areas, but that is far from the truth. 

“We are in a rural area, but because Athens has been urbanized, we have a lot of buildings. We can still benefit from those kinds of technologies that will help reduce urban heat island effects,” Thompson said.

Along with the broader effects within the city, there will also be practical benefits for the Schoonover Center building through energy savings. According to Thompson, the green roof will lower the amount of energy that is needed to both heat and cool the building. In the summer, it can lower cooling costs through evapotranspiration. Evapotranspiration is the sum of evaporation from the land surface and transpiration from plants that brings cooling effects. In the winter, the green roof can provide insulation and lower heating costs. 

The Schoonover green roof is not the first implementation of green infrastructure at Ohio University. Throughout the campus, there are tree plantings, bioswales, permeable pavement, rain barrels and other green roofs on top of McCracken Hall, the Edwards Accelerator and a utility tunnel behind Jefferson Hall. 

However, the Schoonover green roof has a unique focus that sets it apart from the other green infrastructure: it will serve primarily as a resource for students to conduct research and learn more about sustainability. The projects that will be conducted cover a large range of educational disciplines, including plant biology, communications and engineering. 

The Schoonover Green Roof, photograph provided by The Green Initiative.

Engineering students have already started a project that involves constructing physical models of green roofs, complete with vegetated and non-vegetated portions, that will be donated to other schools for scientific analysis. 

Another study involves collecting soil samples from various green roofs around Athens, including the

Schoonover green roof, the McCracken green roof and a green roof at Holzer Clinic.

Taking into account the varying ages and kinds of plant life found within each green roof, the samples will then be compared to analyze differences among the soil systems.

To facilitate student involvement, a new organization called the Green Initiative has been formed to spread the word about green infrastructure.  There are four student-run subcommittees, each tasked with their own responsibilities:

The Outreach subcommittee, the Research and Design subcommittee, the Media subcommittee and the Policy and Advocacy subcommittee. 

Johnny Murray, the president of the Green Initiative, wants others to know that green infrastructure is more than a pretty addition to a building.

“It is absolutely critical to educate, not just students, but everyone on the benefits of green infrastructure because in its various forms it has the potential to solve so many environmental and economic issues plaguing our world today,” Murray said. 

The Schoonover green roof will continue to serve as a bastion for sustainability at Ohio University, as well as provide blueprints for future green infrastructure installations across campus. These might include potential green roofs over bike racks, or even green walls at the Baker Center to give students an even greater opportunity for interaction. Most importantly, the heart and soul of the Schoonover green roof will be kept alive by the diverse work of students. 

“It’s just another way that a lot of different disciplines can come together,” Thompson said. “And I love that. I love working with students from all different majors…They all have a different perspective and different skill set.” 

While the Schoonver green roof only supports a few people at once, there are resources available to virtually discover more about the roof. The Schoonover Green Roof Project website provides the history of the roof, information on green roof benefits and summaries of various projects. Soon, a livestream of the roof will be available on Youtube. For questions or more information about green infrastructure of The Green Initiative, contact Kim Thompson at thompsk3@ohio.edu or Johnny Murray at jm541916@ohio.edu. Information on the Green Initiative can also be found through BobcatConnect.

Flowers on the green roof, photograph provided by The Green Initiative.

Images courtesy of ohio.edu/sustainbility/schoonover-green-roof-project

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