October 01, 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 ecology major Joshua 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 says. “It seemed like 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 says.
He then recruited five friends, and on a weekend in May, the six traveled to New Jersey to help build the roof.
As Wilson explains, Reilly’s house, which has been an ongoing project since 2001, is built into the ground. To erect the roof, specially engineered beams were 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.
The work was labor intensive, hauling buckets of soil and gravel up an embankment in pouring rain, but Levesque says 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 says. “Hopefully after he’s done with this, it will be easier for other people to do it in the future.”