Some McKinney students have, quite literally, a lofty goal: a living, engaging, entertaining … roof.
That’s right, a self-sufficient space for classes and community members atop McKinney Boyd High School. The campus’s engineering students are calling it the Living Roof project.
The estimated $620,000 roof-down: a courtyard-esque space with plants, benches, a waterfall, stage and a TV. Fans and LED lights along with solar panels and drip irrigation will complete the student-driven project.
“We wanted something that we’d be known for, something big that would represent our club,” said Adam Emerich, Boyd junior and Engineering Club member. “We saw so much potential to incorporate what we do every day.
“This is the legacy that we’re leaving.”
Since the idea’s inception, first brought to the club by Emerich and co-presenter Emem Okon about a year ago, the club’s immediate and surrounding communities have rallied around it. Other schools have outdoor learning centers, per say, typically plant-encircled spaces simply to break the classroom monotony.
But none like the Living Roof.
The club, which blossomed from 50 to 120 members in recent months, has shared and collaborated on its project with science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) professionals around Dallas-Fort Worth. Seven club members have landed corporate internships largely because of it.
About a dozen club members make up the Living Roof team, one of several teams that meet weekly after school. Others are centered on women in engineering, a Dallas Arboretum project, a hydrogen fuel cell and additional seemingly above-their-rank initiatives.
The roof, a section easily accessible on the school’s back side, is a building-enclosed concrete plat used by art students. If all goes according to plan, by next school year it will be its own venue.
That’s when club members eye completion of phase I ($445,000) – the overall structure, plants and stage. Audio and visual components like the LED lighting would come after during the $175,000 second phase.
Sherri Hurley, an engineering teacher and the club sponsor, called it the biggest project her students have ever initiated. Times when club members, many pulled between countless AP classes, couldn’t make after-school sessions, she doubted whether the Living Roof would come to fruition.
Their brainstorming, creating and grant-writing hours mounted, though – at the beginning as many as 15 to 20 a week, members contend. “Sleep deprivation has become a norm,” Okon said, maybe half-jokingly.
The club was quick to erase their teacher’s doubts.
“There’s a difference between having great ideas; a lot of students have great ideas,” noted Hurley, who along with professionals taught the structural team about beams, columns and girders that’ll hold the project together. “Very few students would actually take this on – they have and they’ve persevered. They’ve been determined all along.”
Rainwater runoff and AC condensation from 23 other campuses will fuel the irrigation system, to be run through a pump house, filtered and stored in a nearby water collection tank.
A central grassy area will have a layer of sod, 5 inches of soil, 6 inches of gravel and 5.5 inches of composite concrete decking underneath.
“We determined the most long-term, sustainable process for the roof and the area,” said Andrew Riding, co-leader of the Living Roof irrigation team.
Solar panels on the roof over the Living Roof are intended to foster net-zero energy consumption – the area will generate as much or more power the more it consumes. And the team designed the project per city building codes and made it Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)-compliant.
“We’ve done all of the calculations ourselves,” said Austin Williams, the structural team’s leader, explaining how they accounted for live and dead loads, wind, snow and earthquakes. “We made sure this project will be able to withstand it all.”
Impressed yet? Plenty outside of Boyd have been.
The Living Roof crew’s drive quickly led to partnerships and donations. They teamed with city engineers, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service agents, Collin County Master Gardeners and other experts in relevant industries.
They’ve received $60,000 in material and monetary donations from community members and local businesses. The students’ elder, real-world extensions recognize the significance of such a project.
“What we’re learning in school is very different from what they’re doing in the field,” explained Sagar Patel, referencing club members’ lesson during a recent day trip to a fuel company. “This kind of gives us that real-life experience – overcoming problems that real engineers do.”
Their work thus far is annotated and broadcast via a video- and schematic-infused presentation. The team showed it to thousands during a TEDx conference at Southern Methodist University. Dallas Arboretum management tasked the club with redesigning and enhancing its children’s garden.
“In our generation, it’s kind of uncommon to see teenager leave a legacy wherever they go,” said Okon, a junior at Boyd. “Your age should not be a hindrance; it should be something that motivates you to really try to accomplish something significant.”
At the very least, they’re leaving a mark on their city. Though STEM-related concepts drove the project, its beneficiaries run the campus and community gamut.
“It’d be a great escape from the mundane and sometimes boring subjects of pre-Cal and calculus,” said Allen Parr, a math teacher at Boyd and the district’s 2015 Secondary Teacher of the Year, in the video presentation. “It’s a great idea what they’re doing.”
Principal Jennifer Peirson recognized that “sometimes, especially in the spring semester, we just need some different places to learn.”
Its most simplistic description: a classroom that happens to be outdoors. But club members envision much more.
It’ll be a place for after-parties and high-class dinners. Even watch parties and weekend gatherings aren’t out of the question.
“I was thinking Super Bowl party,” said Zachary Post, co-lead of the alternative energy team. “March Madness up there would be awesome.”
All is in place, detailed to the exact second beam’s width, as only engineers would have it. Some more community support – about $560,000 more – is the final piece. Texas Society of Professional Engineers’ local chapter recently contributed $1,500.
The team has written over 20 grants and will host a concert series and car show in May to raise more funds. And they’re engineers (for all intents and purposes) – they’ve planned ahead: An estimated $21,000 annually will be needed to sustain the Living Roof.
Through such fundraisers and future attention, the team expects the project to easily reach that amount every year. Remember, their goals are lofty, but certainly calculated.
It is, after all, a living roof. They know as well as anyone what it takes.
“Just imagine if we’re able to spread this legacy across Texas or across the country or the world even,” Okon said, matter-of-factly. “We would inspire a whole new generation of STEM lovers.”