Museum’s rooftop habitat takes shape

Don’t ever let someone tell you that a nice lawn is over your head — unless you are visiting the California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park.

Once the 2.5-acre “living roof” is completed in two to three weeks, the $1.8 million project full of native plants and wildflowers will be the largest contiguous swath of native habitat in The City, Academy officials said.

The roof has seven “hills” and will cap — once the entire building is finished — a LEED Platinum-certified structure, the highest rating that the Washington, D.C.-based U.S. Green Building Council can give.

In 2004, the California Academy of Sciences began rebuilding its home in Golden Gate Park home since 1916 because of general wear and tear and seismic concerns. While the building is not set to open until fall 2008, officials touted the roof as a “corridor of biodiversity” Thursday.

After more than 30 native species of plant were tested to see if they would survive on the roof without fertilization or irrigation, nine native plants were chosen to dot a landscape that can really only be seen from the tower of the nearby de Young Museum.

“We wanted a group of species that are hearty and tough,” said Frank Almeda, the senior botanist with the Academy. “What we don’t want is a roof that’s going to be brown six months of the year.”

Almeda said the roof will create a “corridor of biodiversity” that will hopefully provide habitat for a variety of native birds, insects and organisms, including endangered butterflies such as the Bay checkerspot and San Bruno elfin.

Workers are in the process of laying down 50,000 biodegradable coconut-husk trays that are filled with a lightweight soil engineered for the roof.

Brent Bucknum, the design director for Carmel Valley-based Rana Creek Nursery, which designed the soil and trays, said the red lava-rock soil only weighs 35-40 pounds per cubic foot while regular soil weighs approximately 150 pounds per cubic foot.

The trays rest on a sediment-sifting filter fabric that runs across a drainage course, which is an egg crate-like layer that pools small amounts of water and lets some run underneath it, Bucknum said.

The roof itself has seven hills, first envisioned by architect Renzo Piano to fit in with the landscape, that will draw cool air into the open plaza and naturally ventilate surrounding exhibits.

City high school will be greenest campus in Bay Area

While the California Academy of Sciences is trying to become one of the largest “green” public buildings in the world, the new Waldorf High School on West Portal Avenue will be the “greenest” school in the Bay Area when it opens in September, officials said.

The 140-student high school, which rents space in the Mission district, purchased the 1970s-era former call center for $6 million and worked to go green on a budget. That goal proved to be a major challenge, said Paul Hurley, chair of the capital campaign for the project.

A fundraiser was held for the school’s capital campaign Thursday night because the school needs an additional $1.7 million by the end of summer to complete the construction.

“To go green did cost more, but a lot of the things we’re doing will save money,” Hurley said.

The carpet tiles were cleaned and reinstalled and the abandoned phone company desks were donated to nonprofits. A backup generator was sold for $1.

In their place came high-performance and operable windows that could help with air flow, materials made of cork and bamboo and wood from sustainable forests, said architect David Bushnell, whose daughter will be a freshman at Waldorf High School in the fall.

The school, when completed, will use 15 percent less energy than its code requirement and 30 percent less water than a conventional school building, Bushnell said.

“We want the students to see us living the ideals we feel are important,” said Joan Caldarera, head of administration for Waldorf.


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