Hamtramck zen center looks to crowd to fund green roof park

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News
Head monk Myungju Hillary and the Detroit Zen Center have plans to cover the large roof area with a green roof park as well as a rain garden and tea house.

Hamtramck — The Detroit Zen Center, nestled in the center of Hamtramck, is trying to tackle stormwater flooding with an eco-friendly solution that serves the community.

The center hopes to install a multi-level green roof park, rain garden and tea house at the residential Buddhist center on Casmere. And there are plans to construct a public park through a crowdfunding campaign

Detroit Zen Center director Myungju Hillary Moga said they started the project to fix recurring flooding that nearly destroyed the organic food cafe.

“Every time it rains in Hamtramck, the basements flood with a combination of stormwater and sewage, and that’s been happening for decades," Moga said. "That’s been a major challenge for us. ... This year was OK, but four years ago, we had close to 3 feet of water and in the lower level where we have the café ... we were completely devastated and nearly had to close the business down."

The center started the project a year ago, with $35,000 to replace the sewer system, which has held up but doesn't help neighbors facing similar flooding. 

Head monk Myungju Hillary overlooking a covered L-shaped hallway that already has a green roof.

"We see the neighbors emptying everything out of their basements again and dealing with whatever mold and health issues they have from heavy rain," Moga said. "Not many of our neighbors are in this position to pay $10,000 to replace their sewer system, and the green roof is just one part of the solution to the stormwater crisis." 

The roof, rain garden and tea house will cost $110,000 to construct and could be completed next summer. Moga said they planned to take out loans before deciding on a crowdfunding campaign.

The center is partnering with the installers of the Ford Rouge Green Roof  and Michigan State University Green Roof Studies' students and faculty to grow and install the 2,500-square-foot green roof. The campaign, hosted by the center and the Michigan Economic Development Corp., can be found on Michigan-based crowdfunding platform Patronicity.

The center plans to use the green space to help alleviate stormwater backup and to serve as a relaxing space for the community. 

"We have 32 ethnic groups in this 2.5-square-mile district," Moga said. "It’s very walkable, but there’s nowhere to go. The green will be on our roof, which is exotic, but the front area will convert into a rain garden, open to the public, a corner where people can come relax, have tea and read a book." 

Detroit Zen Center drawings of a green roof park, rain garden and tea house.

How it works

The XeroFlor system that the Zen Center is installing is a prevegetated mat system of sedum being grown at the center and at MSU in East Lansing.

The green roof can absorb 10,000 gallons of water from the rain rather than funneling into the storm sewers. The roof also can use the absorbed water to heat and insulate the space below, said Brad Rowe, a professor in MSU's Department of Horticulture.

Rowe said green roofs are popular in Washington, D.C.; New York; and Chicago, and could last forever.

"Roofing membranes last much longer under a green roof because they are not subject to the constant expansion and contraction that takes place on a conventional roof," he said. "Temperatures are more constant under a green roof."

Moga said it was the best option across their two-roof historic building. 

"It holds onto the water and releases it slowly into the atmosphere," Moga said. "You’re recreating a natural landscape. In addition, the green roof provides a habitat for birds, bees and humans."

Setting up fundraising

More than $24,000 has beenraised and if the campaign reaches its crowdfunding goal of $50,000 by Dec. 17, the project will win a matching grant from the MEDC.

“This green roof park and gardens represent an innovate response and solution to a community flooding problem while creating an outdoor public space,” said Katharine Czarnecki, MEDC senior vice president of community development, in a statement. “We are pleased to provide resources for this effort through our Public Spaces Community Places program.”

The center met with county officials in the past but said they weren't on board.

"We've had multiple meetings with county officials, but they just don't get it and need someone to model it for them," Moga said. "We're doing it with or without the money. We were about to go into debt to do the project, unfortunately, but thankfully, others have offered to help."

Twitter: @SarahRahal_