A local group is attempting to garner public support for a rooftop garden on the proposed new Central Library, expressing the need for more community gardens in the downtown area.

“A central library and community gardens are two of the most powerful statements a community can have,” said Jane Anne Morris, a representative from the Downtown Community Garden Group. “This would be the first time in the world a library would have a rooftop community garden.”

The Downtown Community Garden Group works to establish as many community gardens as possible in Madison’s city center, Morris said. By standing on the corners of the farmer’s market this past spring, the group garnered the support of hundreds of citizens and received signatures for a petition to create more gardens downtown.

Morris said the group has looked at a couple dozen suitable sites, including both ground and rooftop sites. Looking to increase the number of gardens overall, Morris said the group sees the library as a great opportunity.

The debate centers on whether or not a community garden is the best possible use for the library’s rooftop. Another option, proposed by William Kunkler, executive vice president of the Central Library developer Fiore Companies, is for a “green” roof that would provide most of the benefits the garden could provide.

“To do a green roof costs about $250,000, because you don’t have to provide for people’s ability to access it,” Kunkler said.

According to Kunkler, the community garden could add up to over $3 million in cost.

“Generally, I am very supportive of the effort to identify new community garden space in the downtown area,” Kunkler said. “But my suspicion is that it will prove to be so expensive that it won’t be feasible financially. There’s probably better locations on the ground that would be safer and more convenient for residents.”

Mayor Dave Cieslewicz is also in support of expanding the number of community gardens and sees the library rooftop as a good concept but also a cause for concern.

“It’s an interesting idea, but there are some practical considerations to think about, like the cost of the garden and how the library would guarantee access after hours,” said Rachel Strauch-Nelson, a spokesperson for Cieslewicz.

The community garden would require a structure with 24 inches of soil to grow plants, tool storage and irrigation on the rooftop, according to Kunkler. In terms of access for community members, the library would also have to provide an elevator and at least two exit stairways.

Morris said a committee would be established to take care of the garden, renting out plots to local residents and designating work hours and specific duties to maintain the space.

“These gardens build a sense of community and civic pride,” Morris said. “The cost is trivial compared to other things the city spends money on, and the benefits are numerous; there’s almost no downside.”

According to Morris, the green surface on the building limits rain runoff, reducing pollution and also insulates the building during the winter, lowering energy costs.

The Downtown Community Garden Group will be holding a presentation for the public at 7 p.m. today on the second floor of the Central Public Library on Mifflin Street.

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