Three installed so far, with hopes for more to come
By Izania Gonzalez
If you live in Paul Smiths you may have noticed a new bus shelter right outside the college. Unlike most bus shelters this one is alive – or its roof is. Taken from a design created by Paul Smith’s College students and implemented by The Heart Network, this bus shelter has a green roof.
We spoke to Deborah Naybor, professor at Paul Smith’s College, and Andrew Cassata, healthy schools coordinator with The Heart Network, about the implementation and intention behind the green roof bus shelters. This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Q: Where did the idea for the bus shelters come from?
Cassata: This project was possible through a grant called Creating Healthy Schools and Communities. It is a five-year grant which funds the work that we do that supports increased physical activity, eating, and higher nutrition. It could be helping with the community garden, or helping put in a multi-use path, or bus shelters in this case so that folks could use public transit to increase transportation.
We tried to identify areas that needed improvement, as far as physical activity access and connecting routes to destinations. One thing that we identified was lacking infrastructure within our county’s public transit system. We began looking at:
- How can we increase ridership coming out of the pandemic
- How can we destigmatize the thought of riding the bus.
We thought that a good first step would be making it a beautiful space where people are waiting, make it more inviting and attractive. It all boils down to connecting routes to meaningful destinations. It’s public access for all, to trails and nutritious foods.
Naybor: Andrew is a former student of mine so he knew that I designed and built things with students and he asked me if I could get students involved. I had a class called Social Research and that class was studying how students can develop a voice and participate. One of the things we walked about was how do you get involved with your community. I thought this was a great opportunity for them to come up with ideas and have a say in making a change that would impact the college campus and other local communities. I was able to take the specifications that Andrew had and presented that to my students. They had an incredible amount of fun with it. They came up with 40 different sketches and the students picked their favorite then those favorites were narrowed down to four ideas. From there we got input from my senior capstone class which was designing an outdoor classroom at the time and got some really good feedback from them to improve a few things. I drew up the final concepts and sent them to Andrew and then the county picked one design and made a few more changes, and that was the final design.
Q: Can you tell me more about the design process and the materials?
Cassata: We came up with the idea of the living roofs but Dr. Naybor’s class came up with a set of designs for the shelters. We took those [designs] to the county and met with DPW Supervisor, Ed Adams. We narrowed it down to three. The real reason we had gone with a living roof and the minimalist approach was many things but a big part of it was maintenance. It’s built with lifetime treated wood and Plexiglas. The focus for the living roof was to extend the lifespan of the roofing materials that were on it. With living roofs the sun’s rays aren’t physically hitting the roofing material; it expands the lifespan of the roof. A second was to support a pollinator garden. By putting this focus on a living roof, something living in an area where it might commonly not be, [we’re] supporting our pollinators. It’s really just giving back to nature and supporting pollination. The garden is no maintenance, you never have to water the living roof trays, you don’t need to weed them, so we thought it just made sense.
Q: What was the student response?
Naybor: First of all, anything that’s not a lecture is a lot more fun. When you pull out colored pencils and graph papers and rulers they kind of light up like fifth graders. Some of them have never designed anything and others were very artistic, some had construction backgrounds so I had everything from majors in our baking program to natural resources to eSports. Most of our students are from New York state and Vermont but I had a student from Australia and students from the Bronx. It was interesting to see the difference in their designs, depending on their background and culture.
Q: What was the implementation process?
Cassata: We identified stops that had been previously designated because they were well known but your average person that doesn’t take the bus didn’t know that [a bus stop] was there. The stop by Paul Smiths, this parking lot is more than just where the hot dog man sells hot dogs, it’s also a public bus stop. So now when everybody drives by I mean it catches your eye. The process was putting them in the most meaningful spots and getting the shelters ordered through our local builder.
Q: Are there any new projects in the works for The Heart Network?
Cassata: Revamping school gardens. How can we make this meaningful, more than just giving them grant money for mulch and a few tomato plants, but how can we create a program that is sustainable. We’ve purchased indoor growing carts, rehabilitated their greenhouses in Saranac Lake, growing produce that is of actual quality that’s going to their cafeteria, more than just a lesson plan that teaches kids how to grow things. All of the school districts have identified this as something that they wanted to work on through their action plans and this grant. It’s really sustainable work that can continue on beyond this grant over the next five years. It is an important thing to teach kids where their food comes from and by having the cafeteria program being student led and teacher supervised, it really teaches so many important values to our kids.
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