O'Hare aims at environmentally friendly skies

  • The new north air traffic control tower's base building at O'Hare International Airport has a 10,000-square-foot green roof.

      The new north air traffic control tower's base building at O'Hare International Airport has a 10,000-square-foot green roof. George LeClaire | Staff Photographer

  • Rosemarie Andolino, executive director of the O'Hare Modernization Program, center, gives a tour of the 10,000-square-foot vegetated green roof atop the new north air traffic control tower's base building.

      Rosemarie Andolino, executive director of the O'Hare Modernization Program, center, gives a tour of the 10,000-square-foot vegetated green roof atop the new north air traffic control tower's base building. George LeClaire | Staff Photographer

 
 
Published10/22/2008 12:10 AM

With its acres of concrete and hundreds of jet-fuel gobbling airplanes passing through every day, O'Hare International Airport isn't a tree-hugger's paradise.

But Chicago officials are working to change that image, one green roof at a time.

 

This November marks the opening of the first new runway at O'Hare since 1971, located at the facility's north end. Along with the runway comes a new air traffic control tower that has a garden atop the first floor of its base building.

The rooftop has been planted with sedum, a low-maintenance ground cover. The garden will insulate the building - reducing cooling and heating demands -- retain and filter and prolong the roof's lifetime by about 20 years.

It also mitigates the "heat island" effect created by one of the world's busiest airports.

"The more cooling environments or vegetated areas you have counterbalances that heat island effect," O'Hare Modernization Program Executive Director Rosemarie Andolino said during a tour of environmentally friendly initiatives Tuesday.

O'Hare is in the midst of a major rebuilding program, aimed at creating six parallel runways running east-west. As part of the new construction, workers have created 33,000 square feet of rooftop gardens. These include plantings atop a guard post, the air traffic control base building, a transformer building and a facility holding lighting control systems.

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Before proceeding with the green roof at the air traffic control building - the first of its kind at a Federal Aviation Administration facility - airport planners had to convince agency officials it wouldn't leak and damage essential equipment.

"They had to prove to us that it wouldn't harm operations in the future," FAA spokesman Tony Molinaro said. The garden is lined with a leak-proof membrane.

In addition to the green roofs, the city is requiring construction vehicles to use low-sulfur diesel fuel and is recycling concrete, steel and brick from buildings that were demolished.

In spring, Chicago will start construction of another east-west runway at the airport's south end, which has been embroiled in controversy. At the runway's center is St. Johannes Cemetery. Both its owners and Bensenville are fighting airport expansion, which would involve demolishing about 600 properties in the village.

Despite legal action, Andolino said the city will go ahead and build the ends of the runway, located on land Chicago owns.

The runway and air traffic control tower will begin operating on Nov. 20. President Bush and Transportation Secretary Mary Peters are expected to be among the first people landing there, officials said.

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