Conference center roof may go green

Photo by Special to the Daily
Click to Enlarge
With a new set of sketches of Vail's proposed new conference cente have come a new round of complaints. Most of those complaints have been directed at the brownish, copper-clad roof in the early drawings.
Special to the Daily

Scott N. Miller
January 21, 2005

VAIL - Trading copper for grass could turn some frowns upside down. Maybe.

The frowns came at Tuesday's Vail Town Council meeting when architect Scott Dergance showed a new set of drawings and models of a Vail conference center. Those who talked about the designs were unimpressed.

The design for the center - which town leaders haven't officially decided to issue debt to build yet - is supposed to mimic the town's natural surroundings, with a 70-foot, metallic structure meant to look like a pine tree out front and a curving, sloping roof designed to create snow cornices in the winter.

The original sketches and models from Fentress Bradburn Architects, the Denver-based company designing the center next to the Lionshead parking garage, have shown a copper-clad roof. And it's the roof that seems to draw the most grimaces.

With a packed house on hand - thanks to town council's discussion of another major development project at the nearby Crossroads complex - several people criticized the architect's sketches, especially the roof.

"I don't like the design," said resident Georgine Burton. "I first saw it and I was appalled, especially with the design of the roof."

Resident Jim Rand said he's familiar with other Fentress Bradburn projects, which include the passenger terminal at Denver International Airport and the new Denver Convention Center. Those projects are impressive, he said.

"But this is going to be recognized as the biggest church in the Vail Valley," he said.

Councilwoman Diana Donovan, a longtime critic of the center, called the design "an abomination."

Some of the most stinging criticism came from Councilwoman Kim Ruotolo, who had voted last year to approve the "natural" design.

"I agreed with some reservations," Ruotolo said. "But I like it less and less as I see it. I just don't like it very much."

While some will never like the design - "It's going to be controversial," Councilman Dick Cleveland said - Ruotolo said her opinion could change if the roof does.

Specifically, Ruotolo asked architect Scott Dergance to look into the possibility of using a "green" roof.

How green is it?

In this case, "green" is more than just an environmental euphemism. Several new buildings around the country are using different kinds of growing roofs, ranging from "intensive" foot-thick roofs that include trees to thin, "extensive" roofs that don't weigh any more than conventional gravel-ballast roofs.

According to an article by Katrin Scholtz-Barth in an on-line edition of "School Construction News," an "extensive" roof requires a covering between one and five inches thick. The roofs can be designed to store snowmelt or storm water to eliminate the need for irrigation. They can also provide significant energy savings to a large building.

Dergance said a green roof could be a realistic option for the center.

"We have many options," he said. "We're just in the initial throes of studying it."

A green roof could solve a lot of visual problems, Ruotolo said.

"It would be a perfect mimic to the natural look of Vail in the summer," she said. "If you were coming down the gondola and you'd see a really hilly grass area, that would be so much better than that big brown roof."

While Donovan said a sod roof could turn almost as brown as the copper clad model in a dry summer, Ruotolo isn't the only fan of the idea.

Cleveland said he'd like to see the idea explored, as did Mayor Rod Slifer.

"We already have one on the library and it works very well," Slifer said.

Staff Writer Scott N. Miller can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 613, or