DECATUR — Visitors planning a trip to Scovill Zoo after its April 6 reopening might consider checking out its new green roof building, which officials say is an educational experience that also promotes a greener environment.
The 12-by-10-square-foot structure sits near the zoo's guinea pig habitat and capybara exhibit and features about 24 growing mediums on its roof that will support the lives of plants ranging from succulents to prickly pear cacti.
Zoo Director Ken Frye said the green roof building was built in-house by staff members. Work began on the structure in October, he said, and the zoo is expected to populate its slanted roof with plants in the spring.
"I think it's kind of a neat project," Frye said of the green roof. "A lot of big cities, if you get up high and look down, you'll see a lot of green things growing on roofs. and it is beneficial for the environment to do that."
The green roof is the second major construction project underway at the zoo, as crews are also working to complete the $2 million Z.O. & O Express train track expansion this year. An elaborate bridge overseeing Lake Decatur has been installed near the zoo's wolf habitat for train riders to see on their future journeys to the neighboring Children's Museum of Illinois.
Frye said that among the benefits of building a green roof is that such structures slow down runoff from rainfall, which can overwhelm ditches, parking lots and other areas.
Rain is trapped in the roof's growing mediums and is absorbed into the soil, and rubber barriers on the Scovill roof help with that. Excess water will easily drip off of the roof's edge.
"The water up there is good for the plants themselves and for the transpiration of oxygen into the environment," Frye said. "(The plants) are collecting extra carbon dioxide and taking it out of the air, so essentially benefiting the air quality."
Frye said green roofs can also help reduce effects of urban heat islands, which is when a metropolitan area is significantly warmer than rural areas, owing mostly to paved surfaces and asphalt.
"Instead of having an asphalt roof, it's a green roof and you're not going to have that extra heat," Frye said. "That keeps it cooler in here during the summertime and warmer in here during the winter."
The zoo's green roof was primarily funded by a 2018 community sustainability grant from Macon County Environmental Management.
Nick Burge, the department's assistant director, said the grants are annually given to fund proposals that encourage solid waste management and recycling practices in Macon County that will have a positive impact on sustainability efforts.
The sustainability grant can fund up to 70 percent of qualified projects with maximum awards of $5,000. Frye said the zoo received a $3,000 grant from the environmental management department and the Decatur Park District is handling the rest of the costs for the $6,000 project.
Burge said the zoo's approach to the project and strong interest in using the green roof facility as an educational experience for visitors were some of the factors that allowed it to stand out from other applications.
"It's a very interesting project," he said. "(The zoo) has received grants from us in the past, and they seem to have that want to further further environmental causes and educate the public about it. That really resonated."
Educating the public about sustainability could lead to more people adopting more environmentally-friendly practices in their lives, Burge said.
That's part of the reason why Burge said he and the environmental management department always enjoy receiving project proposals like the Scovill green roof and many others during the grant application process.
"We want people to see what sustainable processes look like," he said.
While Frye said no one will be allowed to enter the green roof building — as it will double as an extension of the guinea pig habitat once a chute is installed to connect the two — there will be informative signs and other materials posted around the building for zoo visitors to learn more about its purpose.
The rest of the winter season will ultimately determine if the green roof and the train expansion will be completed by their targeted dates, Frye said.
"Last April, it was still freezing and snowing," he said. "So hopefully it'll be a little nicer weather-wise and we'll be able to put plants up there."