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Dave Olson, Published July 06 2012

Several buildings in downtown Fargo enjoying benefits of going green up top

FARGO - As a farmer and a flower shop owner, Kim Hess is no stranger to topsoil.

But rooftop topsoil is something new.

And for Hess, who is tending gardens this summer atop the downtown Fargo building that is home to Kilbourne Group, the biggest surprise was discovering how impressive elevated terra firma can be as a growing medium.

“Pig weed takes a lot to thrive. And you can see it’s thriving in this material,” Hess said, nodding toward the span of greenery atop 102 Broadway, which features plots of flowers and vegetables that Hess, owner of Prairie Petals, will soon deliver to her clients around town, including a number of restaurants.

Hess and her gardens are a perfect fit with the vision Kilbourne Group had when it purchased the building and began remodeling it about four years ago, said Mike Allmendinger, general manager of Kilbourne Group and head of Land Elements, a landscape architecture company that has had a hand in many of the green roofs around Fargo.

Other downtown buildings with green roofs include the Loretta Building, which Kilbourne Group is nearly done renovating and expanding; the Hotel Donaldson; and condominiums Kilbourne Group is completing at 300 Broadway.

A green roof was also recently installed at Starion Financial, at 2754 Brandt Drive S. in Fargo.

Green roofs can differ in the thickness of their soil-like materials, though in many cases what is used is not dirt in the conventional sense, but instead a high-tech engineered soil layered atop a number of membranes and other materials designed to both protect buildings from water leaks and store water for plants.

It all seems to work well, Allmendinger said. The green roof at Kilbourne Group is used by the building’s tenants for things like company get-togethers, Friday after-work cookouts and community events.

“St. Paddy Day’s parade this year, this thing was packed full with families and kids,” Allmendinger said.

The newly installed green roof at Starion will soon get a patio setting and canopy so employees can enjoy the space, said Dan Staller, market president at Starion.

The roof was planned as part of the building’s design, he said, and it fits with the company’s philosophy of working to minimize carbon footprints at all of the bank’s locations.

Staller said other eco-friendly features of the bank’s design include geo-thermal heating and cooling, and lights that turn off automatically when no one is in a room.

Patches of prairie grass were also planted around the ground level of the bank, he said.

In addition to aesthetic appeal, Staller said going green helps a company’s bottom line.

While green roofs cost about twice as much as conventional rooftops, he said the energy savings can be as high as 20 percent because of their insulating value.

And because they are absorbent, green roofs help control storm runoff by catching and storing nearly the first inch of rainfall during a storm, Staller and Allmendinger say.

That ability to store runoff and thereby help companies meet building codes is a major reason green roofs are being installed around the country, said Todd Stugelmayer, president of Greenberg Roofing in Fargo, which has worked on a number of such rooftops around the country, including one at the Target Center in Minneapolis.

Stugelmayer said hardy, flowering plants called sedums are the most common vegetation used on green roofs.

Sedums can be planted using plugs, which take a couple of years to establish themselves, or installed as a pre-grown mat, as in the case of Starion. In summertime, the difference between a green roof and a conventional black roof can be striking, Stugelmayer said.

With a black roof, surface temperatures can reach 120 degrees, he said.

“You go onto that (green) roof, and you have ambient air temperature. That’s the big economical savings

for these things,” Stugelmayer said.

Allmendinger offered one more reason businesses might consider installing a green roof.

“It’s just fun to be up on the roof,” he said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Olson at (701) 241-5555