LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Bill Clinton likes to brag about his presidential library being an eco-friendly building.
Now even the roof is going green.
Over the past two weeks, workers have been hoisting 90 species of plants and more than four truckloads of soil atop the William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum to create a garden on an area surrounding Clinton’s penthouse apartment.
Instead of bare concrete, the glass and steel building will be topped with strawberries, ferns, switch grass, roses and other greenery.
“This is just an area he can come and relax in and just enjoy the view,” Clinton Foundation Facilities and Operations Director Debbie Shock said in a recent interview on the roof.
However, it’s not just for looks. That layer of soil and plants will provide insulation and capture rainwater that otherwise would just be wasted as runoff.
Clinton — who has used his nonprofit foundation to promote sustainable development and environmentally friendly building practices — would like to see green roofs used nationwide. He recently announced a program through his foundation aimed at helping homeowners and commercial building owners modernize their buildings to reduce energy use.
“When President Clinton built his library here, part of what he wanted was something that would serve as an example to others, both in design and architecture, but also in sustainability and its footprint and its coexistence with the city landscape,” Clinton Foundation spokesman Jordan Johnson said.
The $165 million library complex is the first presidential library to earn an award from the U.S. Green Committee for environmental design. Flooring is made from recycled rubber tires, solar panels sit on another section of the roof and the parking lot has bicycle racks and charging stations for electric cars.
When it opened in 2004, the library earned a “silver” rating under the Leadership Energy Environmental Design, the benchmark for environmentally friendly buildings. Earlier this month, it earned a “platinum” certification for continuing projects on its existing buildings.
Shock and other foundation workers pointed out some of the benefits of replacing an ordinary flat roof with a garden planted in soil 3 inches to 9 inches thick.
“All of a sudden, instead of having a roof that water continually runs off of, now you’ve got a rain mat underneath here that will actually irrigate these plants. It actually becomes a control for your stormwater runoff,” Shock said. “It’s not only for enjoyment, but it’s got a lot to do with the environment and how we control our stormwater runoff.”
If the plants need any extra water, the library can turn on a buried irrigation system that will use 90 percent less water than common sprinklers or hoses.
Garden to be maintained in eco-friendly manner
Shock said the garden also will be maintained in an eco-friendly manner. That means no gasoline-powered mowers and no chemicals.
“We’re not using any pesticides. All of our fertilizers are organic,” Shock said.
The gardening team also added a sentimental touch by planting the favorite flower of his mother, the late Virginia Kelley.
“His mom loved yellow roses, and he always gave her yellow roses for any holidays so we’re giving back to him some yellow roses,” Shock said.
Although the garden will not be open to library visitors, Shock hopes to have exhibits describing the roof and how it helps the environment. And she would like to share the garden’s herbs and vegetables with visitors.
“When the president’s here, we’d love to have him throw in some green onions or some scallion in his scrambled eggs,” Shock said. “But we’re also hoping we can pick some and take it down to the cafe and let them use it and let our visitors experience a little bit from our green roof.”
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