Monroe Clinic's Roof Gardens Are Taking Root

The snow of another Wisconsin winter will fly before patients and hospital staff can look out over the new rooftop gardens of Monroe Clinic’s Northwest Addition. However, the garden is already taking root at Hortech nursery in Spring Lake, Michigan.

The nursery has planted approximately 11,000 square feet of specially designed LiveRoof beds with hardy plants such as sedum, euphorbia and allium. With foliage and flowers in shades of yellow, green, white, blue and pink, the plants will provide year-round coverage and color. Stano Landscaping of Milwaukee, area leaders in commercial green roof projects, will install the modular beds this summer.

The Northwest Addition will have three green roofs on the first and second levels. The chapel’s rooftop garden will have seating and walking paths for visitors. Every patient room will look out onto a natural vista or green roof. Natural views have been shown to enhance healing and wellness for both patients and employees, according to Dr. Mark Thompson, Chief Medical Officer of Monroe Clinic.

“Bringing healing and spirituality into the design of the Northwest Addition was a priority,” he says. “We want people to feel as comfortable as possible while they’re here. Being able to look out on nature or walk through a garden reduces stress and helps people get back home sooner.”

Benefits to the environment and the bottom line

In addition to making people feel better, green roofs are good for the planet. As a Catholic sponsored organization, Monroe Clinic emphasizes responsible stewardship of resources. It is one of the first hospitals in the state committed to achieving Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Silver certification. The Northwest Addition’s green roofs will enhance the building’s sustainability and energy efficiency. Here’s how:

  • The plants help cool the air, slow air movement and filter pollution.
  • The soil absorbs excess rainwater, significantly reducing runoff and demand on municipal storm sewers.
  • The rooftop ecosystem creates habitat for butterflies and songbirds.
  • The plants and soil help prevent rooftops from heating up in the summer, which typically reduces indoor temperatures 6 to 8 degrees in hot weather.
  • Lower indoor temperatures saves electricity, decreasing the demand on the air-conditioning system.

Although it may seem that caring for a green roof would be more costly, the gardens contain low-maintenance, drought-resistant plants that help protect the roof from sun damage, cracks and leaks.

“Green roofs can double the life of a roof, which is a significant benefit for large buildings like the Northwest Addition,” notes Steve Borowski, Director of Facility Services at Monroe Clinic. “But that’s just the icing on the cake. We conserve energy and reduce runoff while our patients look out on meadows with butterflies instead of tar. Everyone wins.”

An enlightened approach

Monroe Clinic’s Northwest Addition makes the most of natural light and views. With floor-to-ceiling windows along corridors, atriums and a light-drenched cafeteria, the public areas are designed to be light and airy. Each patient room will have a 6- by 8-foot window with a natural view.

All of this glass is about much more than good looks, according to Chris Oddo, Project Manager for Kahler-Slater, the facility’s architect.

“We’re incorporating nature right into the building,” Oddo says. “There’s a lot of evidence to show that light improves healing and human function. So we thought carefully about daylight and how to maximize it in both patient and staff work areas.”

Daylight can also be cost-efficient. A recent report noted that energy savings during daylight hours could be as high as 87% in patient rooms lit by the sun.

Taking the LEED on lighting

Lighting plays an important role in the LEED evaluation process, which includes rating energy efficiency, atmosphere and indoor environmental quality.

The design teams from Monroe Clinic and Kahler-Slater have taken great care to create warm, comfortable lighting levels appropriate to the various public and private areas of the building, notes Kate Egan, a design researcher for Kahler-Slater.

“Patients will have more control of their room lighting from their beds,” she says. “There will be spotlights, full-on task lighting for nurses and softer lighting for the family seating area. The light is a warmer color and indirect, more like a home.”

The Northwest Addition will be lit with energy-efficient fixtures that use 30% less electricity. In addition, some areas of the facility will use occupancy sensors rather than light switches. These choices will save more than $35,000 per year in utility costs, according to Borowski. In addition, the windows are made of Low-E glass, which reduces summer heat absorption and winter heat loss. This will make the zone near windows comfortable and lower energy costs.

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