Newly restored county building features ‘green’ roof

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Green roof at 320 Chestnut St. Photo by Hannah Leyva.
Green roof at 320 Chestnut St. Photo by Hannah Leyva.

While the newly renovated county-owned building at 320 Chestnut St. in downtown Wilmington has many updated features, the best one can’t be seen by passers-by on the street.

That’s because it’s located on the building’s roof, seven stories above the ground. What used to be a mechanical room and an area for utilities is now a bright, airy break room and, more importantly, a green roof and outdoor space.

According to project manager Kevin Caison, who was in charge of the building’s restoration, succulent plants were placed on top of the rubber membrane placed on top of the roof for energy and cost efficiency.

“The green roof increases insulation, which decreases heating and cooling costs,” Caison said. “It also protects the membrane roof from sun damage, which increases the lifespan of the roof.”

The plants will be watered through an irrigation system when necessary, though adequate rainwater will be sufficient for their maintenance. Some benches and a path through the plants provide workers in the building with a place to get some fresh air and take in views of downtown, the river and Memorial Bridge on their breaks. Though the features cost an additional $80,000, the county will recoup the money over time in energy savings.

“Since it will keep the roof cooler, it will reduce costs and save money in the long run,” said New Hanover County spokeswoman Ruth Smith.

320 Chestnut St. Photo by Hannah Leyva.
320 Chestnut St. Photo by Hannah Leyva.

The roof is just one of the new green features of the building, which was restored with energy efficiency in mind. Lighting sensors have been installed in rooms as well as a new HVAC system and new windows. According to Smith and Caison, the windows can now open to let in fresh air, which actually reduces costs.

“Before, the trend was to keep everything enclosed and keep everything air conditioned,” Caison said. “Now, it’s all about fresh air. That’s what it’s going toward now, and the [building] code actually requires it.”

Smith said the county is excited about the new building, which opened to workers around Thanksgiving after construction was completed in October. The Department of Community and Justice Services, the public defender and the Guardian ad Litem offices have already moved in. The Registrar of Deeds, which will occupy the entire first floor of the building and house their documents in a specially built fireproof vault, will move in within the next couple of months.

“This is a great building in a great location, and we’re very proud of it,” said Smith. “We’re hoping that we can be an inspiration to other developers to show that this kind of energy efficient building can be done.”