When the Colcord Building opened a century ago, it featured a rooftop garden from which one of its tenants, the Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce, could show off the skyline to visiting dignitaries.
Similar rooftop gardens opened at the Skirvin Hotel and other landmarks, but fell out of use with the advent of air conditioning and modern building design.
Jennifer Gooden, director of Oklahoma City's sustainability office, is hoping a renewed interest in “green roofs” will catch on locally with a symposium set for Thursday.
“Everything is new again,” Gooden said. “There was quite a bit of use of green rooftops in the 1960s and 1970s — I understand Eugene Field had one at one point.”
Advances in construction that decrease weight on roofs have spurred a renewed interest, Gooden said, with benefits including lower building energy costs, reduced impact on stormwater drainage and the lowering of temperatures in “urban heat islands.”
“Roofs get hot, and in an urban area, that contributes to a city being a couple of degrees hotter,” Gooden said. “Despite all those benefits, we're not seeing a lot adoption of green roofs in Oklahoma City.”
The symposium Thursday will include presentations on green roofs and tours of recent additions that will include an underground garage just built at the campus of Chesapeake Energy Corp. rooftop gardens at 1015 N Broadway along Automobile Alley and at the newly renovated Packard Building at 201 NW 10.
Those who have added green-roofs are among those praising their benefits and popularity.
Chris Fleming, a partner in the MidTown Renaissance development, said the newly renovated Packard Building features a 3,000-square-foot rooftop, one-third of which is covered with plants. All of the planters are custom fabricated, contain a special light weight soil to limit the load burden and plants that are drought tolerant.
“It offers great views of the downtown skyline,” Fleming said. “It provides environmental benefits to the neighborhood and serves as an amenity for the building's tenants and for the community.”
Steve Mason, who added a rooftop garden at 1015 N Broadway as part of a renovation of the decades-old building, has seen it rented out for everything from Greater Oklahoma City Chamber events to weddings to parties.
“It's been a great addition for our community,” Mason said. “It's a semi public park. People enjoy being on that roof, and I'm sure Bob Howard, Mickey Clagg and Chris Fleming will enjoy that same reaction.”
Mason noted the rooftop has provided the community an affordable alternative for weddings; he charges $750 for a rental and places no requirements on catering.
With 20 percent of the rooftop covered with vegetation, Mason said the green roof has reduced energy costs and developed its own ecosystem filled with butterflies and bees.
“It's a great way to see the city,” Mason said. “It reinforces to people what a beautiful, improving city we have right now. When they were up on the Colcord with the chamber, so long ago, they were right — it's a great way to see our city.”
The public is invited to attend a free Green Roof Symposium hosted by the City of Oklahoma City from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on July 12 at the Cox Convention Center.
Morning sessions will include presentations, panel discussions and exhibits of green roof systems. A bus tour to three different types of green roofs in Oklahoma City will take place in the afternoon.
The event is offered through the City's Planning Department and Office of Sustainability, with funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009's Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant. Registration is free and includes breakfast and lunch. To register, visit www.okc.gov/planning/greenroof/