CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Sunday, 1 September 2019

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Church buildings with rooftop gardens safe?

HONG KONG (UCAN): Following the collapse of a building with a rooftop garden at the City University of Hong Kong on May 20, some Catholic schools and parishes in the territory have said that they are confident that similar gardens on their own buildings are safe.

The collapse of a 1,400 square metre rooftop garden at the City University injured three people and prompted officials to urge education institutions to conduct extensive safety checks on their rooftop greenery.

After the accident, building officials also asked schools that have not yet sought approval for their rooftop gardens to contact the education bureau to register for a review.

Sister Magdalen Siu, the principal of the Holy Family Canossian School in Kowloon Tong, said that she thought that safety was more of an issue with small-scale projects since they don’t need any approval.

Holy Family Canossian School has a 400 square metre rooftop garden, which was built in 2011.

“Our garden went through a very rigorous approval process with the authorities,” Sister Siu said.

“The construction only took two months, but it took one-and-a-half years to get approved,” she explained.

Rooftop gardens have become popular campus greenery projects and schools built after 2000 have set aside additional loading capacity for a rooftop garden.

Turning rooftops into gardens for planting vegetables has also become a welcome green initiative in some parishes.

Holy Cross parish in Sai Wan Ho established an environmental group to promote the message of Pope Francis’ encyclical, Praise Be: On care for our common home (Laudate Si’).

It has put together a plan to create a rooftop garden as a response to the pope’s observation that “neighbourhoods, even those recently built, are congested, chaotic and lacking in sufficient green space.”

Joe Chan, a member of the group, said, “Our church building is old. So we have to consider the loading and the maintenance.”

The group consulted the Catholic Messengers of Green Consciousness, an organisation that promotes environmental protection in the diocese.

Among other things, it was told to consider the surface area of the roof and to understand its loading capability.

“We are a bit different from the City University’s approach. They just let the soil cover the rooftop, but we use containers to hold the soil for planting,” Leung Chi-wan, an engineer and a member of Catholic Messengers of Green Consciousness, said.

He explained that having the rooftop totally covered with soil makes it more difficult for rainwater to drain and the roots can damage the building structure.

Ivan Ho, the chairperson of the Professional Green Building Council and board member of the Hong Kong Institute of Architects, told the South China Morning Post that he believes that 99.9 per cent of rooftop gardens in Hong Kong are safe.

Beware the remaining 0.1 per cent!

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