CHOP Gets Recognition for Leading with River-Protecting Green Design

When leadership at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia decided to create a brand-new, centralized facility for pediatric care, their primary concern was easing the stress young patients and their families often face while undergoing treatment.

Today, that vision is recognized at the 12-story Buerger Center, a colorful University City building that opened in 2015 with a playful, flowing façade that makes it feel like a distinct, long-cherished landmark.

Impressive features include a lush and winding 16,000 square foot roof garden and a ground-level plaza garden covering more than two acres. These spaces not only serve the mission of reducing stress for kids in treatment—they also reduce pollution in Philadelphia’s waterways.

By limiting the amount of stormwater runoff flowing into Philadelphia’s combined sewer system, where heavy storms can lead to overflows that harm local rivers like the Schuylkill, these green features are helping the City of Philadelphia in its drive to massively reduce this source of pollution in the coming years.

That attention to water quality protection and green design are what earned CHOP and the team behind the Buerger Center the 2017 Stormwater Pioneer award. Granted by the Philadelphia Water Department, the award recognizes forward-thinking stormwater management projects in the private sector.

Mayor Jim Kenney, Water Department Commissioner Debra McCarty and City Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell will gather on the blooming 6th-floor roof garden with CHOP officials and the development team this Wednesday, July 26.

While the Buerger Center’s gardens are highly visible, much of the actual stormwater management takes place behind the scenes at the facility, which was designed to be LEED-Silver certified.

As rain falls on the green roof and ground-level plaza—which is itself the roof to an underground, 1,500 car garage—the stormwater runoff is captured and then pumped into large storage tanks under the center. The fiberglass tanks can manage more than 70,000 gallons of water and hold over 115,000 gallons at full capacity. If the tanks overflow, they release the water at a slow rate, limiting the amount of water that flows into the sewer system during heavy rains.

"One viable option would have been to just do tanks with no green roof, which would handle the volume concerns," notes Doug Carney, CHOP’s senior vice president for facilities, design, construction, real estate and energy. "But the green roof creates a lot of aesthetic and amenity benefits that are not part of any regulatory requirement … Now, 100 percent of that water is controlled and much of it goes into the green roof."

It’s an approach that the Philadelphia Water Department is hoping other large institutions, organizations and schools will consider as more development takes place in the city.

While regulations put in place to support the Green City, Clean Waters program require projects over 15,000 square feet (about one-third of an acre) to manage most stormwater runoff on their property, projects like CHOP’s Buerger Center show that protecting our rivers can also create opportunities to better serve the people using hospitals, schools and more.

"Children’s Hospital has six million square feet of office space in this main campus location," says Carney. "But we had very little green space. It’s a little piece of nature for patients and families to enjoy."