May 17, 2016
The Wilson family has a long history with Susquehanna University. Bruce and his wife, Karen, met here and married in the 1980s, and their children, Jen and Daniel, graduated in 2013 and 2016 respectively.
So when Bruce Wilson '84, of Washington, N.J., was contacted by an old high school friend, James Reilly, who needed help building his green, earthen house, Wilson turned to his alma mater.
Through a series of contacts, Wilson connected with sophomore earth and environmental sciences major Josh Levesque, of Westminster, Md. Levesque tackled the project with enthusiasm upon the suggestion of Kathy Straub, professor and chair of the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences.
"It was a very interesting project," Levesque said. "It kind of seemed like a good real-world experience."
A green roof is one that is partially or completely covered with vegetation. Levesque set about researching plants that would be most appropriate for such a project, specifically plants that are native to New Jersey.
"We did a lot of succulents, grasses, shrubbery and some blueberry bushes," Levesque said.
He then recruited five friends, and on a recent weekend, the six traveled to New Jersey to help build the roof.
As Wilson explained, Reilley's house, which has been an ongoing project since 2001, is built into the ground. To erect the roof, specially engineered beams are installed, followed by tongue-and-groove decking, a waterproofing membrane, tarp, gravel, filter fabric, and finally the soil in which the vegetation is planted. The group also created little riverbeds that could direct any water runoff onto a lower roof and retention basin.
"What was done in two days, if you put a price tag on it, you're talking $10,000 at least," said Wilson, whose wife, Karen, worked at the site as well and made meals for the hungry crew.
The work was labor intensive, hauling buckets of soil and gravel up an embankment in the pouring rain, but Levesque said he was inspired by Reilly's long-term commitment to his dream, which has been delayed due to difficulty in securing lending.
"He is so dedicated. I couldn't imagine sticking to a dream like that for 16 years," Levesque said. "Hopefully after he's done with this, it will be easier for other people to do it in the future."
In addition to the unique experience, the participating students were able to donate their hours to SU SERVE, the university's campuswide volunteer effort.
"It's the whole service-first mentality," Wilson said. "To see [the students] so excited and all of them just very interested in doing this, plus giving up a weekend. It was a sacrifice for them and rewarding for all of us."