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New health complex features green roof, sustainable design

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Rendering illustrates the location of the green roof project (left) at Reading Health System’s main
location in West Reading.
COURTESY OF READING HEALTH SYSTEM/ Rendering illustrates the location of the green roof project (left) at Reading Health System’s main location in West Reading.

A construction project with an 88,000-square-foot green roof at Reading Health System’s main location in West Reading, which broke ground in September 2013, will debut to the Berks County community by October.

Earlier this month, the hospital network launched the promotion of its latest campaign and new name for the project: Reading HealthPlex.

The cost of completing the project is $346 million, confirmed Mark McNash, vice president of Support Services for Reading Health System. The new construction links to existing buildings E and N on the original hospital campus.

While a green roof is one major aspect of this work, Reading HealthPlex also involves new operating rooms and patient rooms, created with sustainable practices in design.

“The fact that Reading Health System has incorporated a green roof into their new building design is encouraging, and I applaud their demonstration of conservation principles,” said Kimberly Murphy, president of Berks Nature in Reading, a nonprofit that advocates for conservation of the environment.

The addition of 150 new patient rooms will replace 150 existing ones. The project also ties in expansion of the emergency department and trauma service.

“Now, we will have 24 state-of-the-art operating rooms which will be monitored in a continuous area,” McNash said.

Replacing sterilizers and washers with more energy-efficient models for what’s used in surgeries is one sustainability design practice cited by David Major, director of construction and facilities management at Reading Health System.

“The equipment will probably use anywhere between one-eighth to one-fifth the amount of water which we use today in the cleaning process,” he said.

The air flow with the heating and cooling unit will “recognize when a portion of the building is vacant and actually set back,” Major said. “When folks are coming in during the morning, those systems will be back up and running.”

The building’s lighting system will operate similarly in individual locations with its own occupancy and setback sensors.

“We will occupy the bottom three floors in a phased approach starting on Oct. 17,” Major said. “The remainder of the building will complete construction [starting] on Oct. 31, and we plan on occupying it by the first of the new year.”

Major noted that steel infrastructure, along with brick, limestone and marble facing, make up Reading HealthPlex itself.

The green roof, though, is what brings most attention to the eye with this project. A healing garden on the roof will be accessible starting Oct. 15, the day of the community open house for the project.

“They’re not as typically common as people would like to believe,” Major said about green rooftops.

In researching with the American Society of Healthcare Engineers, the scale of the green roof innovation compared to others across the nation, Reading Health System’s roof is believed to be the third largest on a health care system in the nation.

“It’s a double roof system,” Major noted. “We’re using the roof to deflect stormwater. We believe we’re doing something good and that there’s value in it.”

Also, a leak detection system built into the design will give notice when there are pockets of moisture, Major said.

Green construction in this aspect is not remotely low-cost. But McNash and Major agreed that it sets a great example in the community for the need to be environmentally responsible with the hospital’s impact.

The roof is a 60/40 split between greenery zones and areas in which patients and employees can access walking paths, benches, tables, a pergola and a waterfall feature as a part of a healing garden.

There will be numerous varieties of sedum, a succulent perennial plant, across the expanse of the roof. They retain water and are ideal for rooftops.

“Several patient rooms will have a clear view of the roof, and this provides a little bit of tranquility with the magic of plants,” McNash said.

Murphy of Berks Nature said people are affected physically and emotionally by both natural and manmade environments.

“If a hospital system is all about health, then I think there is an opportunity and a responsibility to provide some leadership around how human health and environmental health intersect,” she said.

Murphy added that adopting green building principles is a great start.

“Green roofs have been shown to reduce heating and cooling costs, in addition to providing less building runoff,” she said. “Less building runoff helps to diminish the opportunity for pollutants and sediment to get into our local waterways through stormwater issues, thus ultimately helping to keep our drinking water clean.”

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