Posted in Volume 35, Issue 13
PS/IS 217 might be changing colors from Roosevelt Island red to tree-top green, thanks to the delegates who got the schools’ green roof project past the City Council team, RIOC, and all relevant City agencies, and then onto the Participatory Budgeting ballot.
The next step toward greening the school’s roof is winning the most votes. The roof project is up against 16 other District 5 projects. (District 5 is comprised of the Island, the Upper East Side and Midtown East.) Voting takes place from April 11 to April 19. Needless to say, Islanders are being urged to vote. District residents 16 years old and up can vote, citizenship is unnecessary.
Participatory budgeting is a process through which community members vote to decide how to spend part of the City budget – at least $1 million per City Council district – on proposals developed by the community to meet local needs.
Delegates submitted a dozen projects for Roosevelt Island, only two of which made it to the ballot. The second project concerns the new library (separate story, this page).
The idea is to turn PS/IS 217’s 6,750 square-foot roof into a real world laboratory for 217’s students, while gaining environmental benefit for the community at large.
It’s not a new endeavor. In 2013, the school got $35,000 from former Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer for a feasibility study. At the time, Stringer said, “There were a lot of naysayers arguing that you couldn’t transform these rooftops. To me, they are outdoor classrooms. These spaces are not ornamental. Kids are learning while they are planting.”
Ursula Fokine, 217’s Sustainability Coordinator, distinguishes between the purpose of the schoolyard and the green roof. She says, “I see the school yard as the playground and the roof as [the students’] backyard. It provides inspiration and relaxation, a different venue for classes and learning experiences and also that whole nature connection for insects and plants. It provides a natural habitat for animals like birds, insects and butterflies. As butterflies migrate they look for a green space. We want to give the Monarchs a refuge as they fly by.”
Fokine remembers, “The feasibility study launched the whole project. We had just finished all the construction on the building and Christina Delfico [Roosevelt Island Community Coalition Board member and founder of iDig2Learn] had applied for this grant. They did the feasibility study, gave the engineering approval, and now it’s going to be on this ballot. It’s my understanding the project will cost $1.5M so it will probably be a few years of gathering the money together. The green roof came partially out Christina’s iDig2Learn organization, but also in her conversations with the school about how we can engage students more in STEM learning.”
Some of Fokine’s inspiration comes from across the world. She says, “I went on an educator’s tour of Japan, and, in Tokyo many buildings have green roofs, including schools. Students there participate in laying sod, planting plants.” But she wants more. She says, “A garden is just too limited. We see the space as an outdoor classroom with outdoor space and grass, theatre space, classroom space.”
Since then, Principal Mandana Beckman has requested $1.5M from the Borough President’s capital fund. The Participatory Budget money would alleviate the Borough President’s commitment over the next two budget cycles. Despite commitments made by Cornell in their lease, this green roof project is not something Cornell is involved in. Fokine says of the relationship, “I am not quite sure how the two could be connected unless they want to come and help us wire up the roof.”
According to iDig2Learn’s Delfico, “A strong school is like an anchor for the community. A green roof provides more than a much needed learning hub for 21st century skills; it excites students about new careers, it creates a beautiful extended view for residents, it reduces pollution storm water run off into our rivers and it allows city children not often exposed to nature to benefit from its calming qualities.”
But there’s more. Girl Scout Troop Leader Aiesha Eleusizov says, “Not only will the green roof have numerous positive environmental effects such as a reduction in storm-water runoff, reduction in energy consumption for air conditioning in the summer, mitigation of heat effect by no longer having a black rooftop, and improved air quality on the Island, but it will also provide a concrete example to explain and teach about these important environmental and scientific lessons and concepts and possibly inspire some budding young scientists.”
In fact, green roofs do clean the air. They capture pollutants, filter noxious gasses and decrease asthma and other pulmonary diseases. Green roofs also impact the community at large because they quiet city and mechanical equipment noise.