Beardsley Zoo to build living roof over Rainforest Building

With support from The United Illuminating Company and UIL Holdings Corporation, Connecticut’s Beardsley Zoo will soon have a jungle both inside and outside its rainforest exhibit.

The zoo is preparing to install a “living roof” over the Rainforest Building, a popular exhibit that houses monkeys, amphibians, vampire bats and other tropical critters. The roof, which is currently in design, will consist of a canopy of living plants over the top of the structure.The project is expected to be complete by fall 2015.

The carpet of plants will absorb an estimated 60 to 70 percent of the rainwater that would otherwise drain out into Bridgeport’s storm/sewer system. It also will act as a natural filter, so that excess runoff can be recycled for reuse in various zoo exhibits.

Additionally, it will provide a blanket of organic insulation, helping to reduce the amount of energy required to maintain a tropical climate in the exhibit. Finally, it will reduce the “heat sink” effect, absorbing heat from the sun rather than reflecting it back into the atmosphere.

“This new roof accomplishes several important goals for us,” said Gregg Dancho, the zoo’s director. “It will create significant energy savings, promote self-sustaining operations and highlight the zoo’s role as a leading conservation organization. There is also a learning opportunity: We are planning to create an educational display highlighting the benefits of the new roof for our visitors.”

The structure’s current flat roof was last updated in 1992, and more than 20 years of harsh weather and wear-and-tear have left it in poor condition, zoo officials said. The United Illuminating Company, electric subsidiary of UIL Holdings, supported the $56,000 project with a $7,082 grant through the Neighborhood Assistance Act 2014 tax credit program.

The plants that will cover the roof will include sedum mix, with grasses and chives. Those species were chosen based on their minimal maintenance requirements and ability to absorb water, among other factors.

“This is a community-focused project that wonderfully reflects our values at UIL Holdings Corporation,” said James P. Torgerson, UIL’s president and chief executive officer. “It provides Connecticut’s only zoo with a value-added, sustainable solution that will help it operate more efficiently and reduce waste. It’s also an example of how we engage and support the communities where our companies do business – and where our employees and customers live and work.”

In all, UIL and its three Connecticut operating companies — The United Illuminating Company, The Southern Connecticut Gas Company and Connecticut Natural Gas Corporation — approved $450,000 in grants in 2014 through the Neighborhood Assistance Act, part of a wider UIL corporate philanthropy program that oversaw distribution of $2 million in corporate and employee giving during 2014.

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