Civic Works Highlighted for Work on Cool Roofs in Baltimore

Ed Sheeks, project leader with Civic Works, sits on a cool roof he and a crew installed. Also from CIvic Works are left, front to back, Crystal Hudson, James Simpson, and Daysha Bragg. (Kim Hairston, Baltimore Sun / September 26, 2013)

Originally Published by The Baltimore Sun

Push urged for more cool roofs in Baltimore
White or light coatings reduce energy costs, last longer

By Timothy B. Wheeler

Leigh Peterson has one of the coolest roofs in Baltimore. Her rowhouse near Patterson Park sports a blinding white cap, topped by a row of shiny solar panels.

Peterson, 29, a graduate student at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, doesn't need to see her roof to know it's cool, though. She just has to count the dollars she's saved on air conditioning. She got her roof coated as part of a comprehensive energy retrofit of her 109-year-old house, and her August electricity bill was about half what she paid last year.

"I'm a grad student, so I'm always into saving money, because I don't have much of it," she said. "But I'm also environmentally concerned as well."

Peterson is one of a small but growing number of Baltimoreans putting energy-saving "cool" roofs on their homes or places of business. A new report by the Abell Foundation suggests white or cool roof systems like hers could help fight global climate change while also making the city a healthier place to live — and urged local and state governments to do more to expand installation efforts.

"Longer lasting, cost-competitive and often safer to install than traditional black roofs, cool roofs could become Baltimore's next climate mitigation priority and environmental target," concluded the report, written by Joan Jacobson, a freelance journalist, researcher and former reporter for The Evening Sun and The Baltimore Sun.

Ideal for flat or gently sloping surfaces, cool roofs involve more than slathering a coat of white or shiny metallic paint on an existing layer of tar. They come in two basic types, both intended to reflect sunlight and keep the building below from heating up as much. One involves applying a liquid acrylic coating that dries into a rubber-like surface, while the other features a thin membrane laid down over the roof to seal it.

They can reflect up to 80 percent of sunlight they receive, the report says. Studies show they can cut air-conditioning costs by up to 20 percent and even lower indoor temperatures inside buildings without air conditioning. White or light-colored roofs may reduce the amount of solar heat homes get in winter, but the savings in warm weather more than offset any extra heating needed when it's cold in all but the northernmost climes, studies show.

There are health benefits as well, advocates say. Kurt Shickman, executive director of the Global Cool Cities Alliance, said a study his group just finished in Washington found that in areas where cool roofs were installed along with tree plantings at the street level, heat-related deaths declined by 6 percent to 7 percent. This past summer's relatively cool, rainy weather resulted in 15 heat-related deaths in Maryland, about a third as many as in 2012 and the fewest since 2009, according to the state health department.

Cool roofs can cost about the same as traditional ones, proponents say. Installation and materials range from $3.90 to $9.50 per square foot, compared with $4 to $8.25 per square foot for an asphalt roof, according to the report. Upkeep on cool roofs also is less, because they don't heat up and crack as much.

New or existing roofs covered with liquid coatings can easily last a decade, the report said, and two to three times longer with regular recoating every five years. The membrane roof coverings generally require replacement of the existing roof first, but also can last 25 to 30 years with minor maintenance.

Hundreds of cool roofs have been installed across Baltimore since the first one went on a home in Charles Village in 1981, according to the report. The city's housing and community development department has helped pay for reflective roofs on about 130 homes occupied by low-income families, while Civic Works, a nonprofit group affiliated with Americorps, has installed another 150, according to John Mello, the group's green project director.

The city has since made cooling homes and businesses with reflective roofs part of its climate action plan, so municipal agencies are ramping up their efforts. This year, the report notes, the city got $2.8 million from the state to make grants to low-income homeowners to put cool roofs on 500 homes as part of a weatherization program.

The city also hopes to put cool roofs on 22 to 50 homes a year as part of its "Baltimore Energy Challenge," which works to install a variety of energy efficiencies in homes as well. Alice Kennedy, city sustainability coordinator, said she expected to spend about $100,000 a year over the next three years on the effort, which targets low- to moderate-income households.

But more could be done, the Abell report argued. It suggests Baltimore and Maryland imitate aggressive installation campaigns in other cities and states. In particular, Jacobson urged the city to mandate cool roofs on new and renovated structures as part of its green building standards, much as California has done.

"I think there's some real opportunities, looking at neighboring cities, to take what they're doing and do it in Baltimore," Shickman agreed. New York City, for instance, has worked with local energy companies and corporations to coat government buildings and require cool roofs on all new and renovated private buildings.

City Hall isn't prepared to go that far. Rather than require it, Kennedy said local officials hope that by spreading the word about the savings and other benefits building owners will readily embrace cool roofs.

"It's something we would definitely like to encourage," she said.

Many appear to have gotten onto the bandwagon already, Kennedy said. From her window in the Benton city office building downtown on Baltimore Street, Kennedy said, two-thirds of the roofs she could see have white or reflective coatings.

Washington, D.C., also has a cool roof law, Shickman said, but there developers already are embracing cool roofs as they strive to meet the voluntary green building standards set under the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program. Cool roofs are encouraged under those guidelines, he noted.

The Abell report also called for the state to make cool roofs eligible for financing and rebates now offered for upgrading the energy efficiency of a home or business. The state does have a goal of reducing energy consumption 15 percent by 2015, it pointed out.

The Maryland Energy Administration does not provide any financial incentives to install cool roofs now, but spokeswoman Devan Willemsen said that might be about to change. If lawmakers approve the funding, the state energy office is preparing to roll out a new competitive energy-efficiency grant program targeting low- and moderate-income households, and one of the upgrades the program would pay for is a cool roof.

"We're definitely in support of cool roofs," Willemsen said.

The Abell report also urged the city's school system to integrate cool roofs into its planned $1.1 billion overhaul of 40 school buildings.

Lighter-colored roofing materials went on about 20 city schools that have been renovated or weatherized, the report says. But those crushed-granite and ceramic materials don't yield the same energy savings a true cool roof would.

Keith Scroggins, chief of facilities for the city school system, said administrators are looking at cool roofs, as well as "green" roofs, those which have vegetation planted on them to absorb rainfall and control storm-water runoff.

"As we get closer to design of the first group of schools, we expect to decide on a variety of energy efficient options," Scroggins said.

With storm-water control a priority in Baltimore because of the Chesapeake Bay restoration effort, some might think green roofs would take precedence over cool roofs. Shickman said it's a false choice, as both can go on larger buildings, and with smaller structures the runoff controls can be installed on the ground.

The biggest problem with cool roofs, experts warn, is they can cause or worsen moisture damage if not properly insulated and ventilated.

Stanford University researchers also have suggested that cool roofs might actually warm the planet if they went global, because they'd reflect sunlight back into the atmosphere and warm the many fine particles floating in the air. That's a distant worry for now because cool roofs are nowhere near widespread.

Peterson, an area vice president of the Patterson Park neighborhood association, said she put leased solar panels on her roof first, as a hedge of sorts against rising electricity rates, then had the cool roof installed. It was part of a $3,000 complete energy retrofit of her drafty home, she said. Technicians sealed up cracks, put in additional insulation and installed a new hot-water heater.

The payoff: electricity bills of $100 to $120 for her 1,000 square foot home even with her central air running.

"That is pretty wonderful," Peterson concluded.

An earlier version misstated the size of Leigh Peterson's home. The Sun regrets the error.

Cool roofs

Designed to reflect sunlight and have lower temperatures than traditional black or dark roofs.

Though many are white, they can be other colors as long as they include reflective material.

Ideal for flat or gently sloped roofs, best when put on new or replacement roofs.

Two basic types: "elastomeric" roof with a multi-layer liquid coating, reinforced with mesh, or prefabricated membrane sheet.

Can reflect up to 80 percent of sunlight, reduce air-conditioning costs by up to 20 percent.


Boiler Plate: 
Push urged for more cool roofs in Baltimore. White or light coatings reduce energy costs, last longer.

Mayor of Baltimore Tweets About How Civic Works Helps "Grow Baltimore For Real"

From the Civic Works Facebook page

The Mobile Farmers’ Market – a refurbished newspaper delivery truck equipped with display counters – allows Civic Works to distribute fresh produce from their Real Food Farm to a diversity of people throughout Baltimore. One of the Market’s recent customers was the mayor of Baltimore, the Honorable Stephanie Rawlings Blake. What did the mayor think about the fresh, locally-grown collard greens she purchased? Check out this Twitter conversation…

Real Food Farm Tweet:
@MayorSRB how were those collard greens you got from our Mobile Farmers' Market? #getreal

The Mayor's tweet:
@realfoodfarm fantastic. Thanks. I was just bragging about your farm to my colleagues. Said you help me "Grow Baltimore" For Real.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. Hosts 20th Anniversary Benefit for Civic Works, Discusses Green Economy

On Wednesday evening this week, several members of The Corps Network staff were proud to attend Civic Works' 20th Anniversary Benefit.

Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. hosted the event and praised Civic Works for their long and successful history of getting young people engaged in addressing critical environmental needs, the green economy, and giving back to their Baltimore communities while helping raise political awareness of a range of issues from environmental stewardship to climate change.

Kennedy's sister, and Civic Works co-founder Kathleen Kennedy Townsend also spoke (shown above), and thanked the Baltimore community for their many years of support. In an interview with WYPR (Baltimore's NPR affiliate), Townsend discusses how Civic Works' director Dana Stein came to her with the idea to create the Corps. You can also listen to segments where 1) Dana talks about how geothermal energy will cool and heat Civic Works' headquarters at the historic Clifton Mansion in the future and 2) the restoration of the Mansion. 

WBAL 11 also did a segment about the event and Civic Works' 20 year impact that can be watched here.

Since 1993, Civic Works has:

  • Converted 190 vacant lots into community gardens and green spaces
  • Rehabilitated 55 houses, repaired 253 houses, and weatherized 275 houses for low and moderate income families
  • Made energy efficiency improvements in more than 4,000 households resulting in projected savings of more than $3 million in utility costs
  • Tutored and mentored 33,809 students
  • Provided service opportunities for 2,650 AmeriCorps members
  • Recruited 32,544 volunteers
  • Assisted 157 participants in earning a GED
  • Placed 510 participants in healthcare and green jobs
  • Grown more than 15,000 pounds of fresh, organic produce for sale to local communities
  • Planted 25,477 trees

AmeriCorps Members from Civic Works Visit White House, Meet President Obama


(Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

On Friday of last week, 12 AmeriCorps members were invited to the White House to talk about National Service with President Obama and other senior officials. Among them were 2 Corpsmembers from Civic Works, Baltimore’s Service Corps. Leonard Chase (seen in the right corner) and Myeasha Taylor, we thank you for representing the Corps movement and National Service!

You can read more about their visit and the short biographies of all 12 AmeriCorps members who attended at by clicking here.

For Baltimore Youth, Opportunity Goes Green - a story from our friends at SparkAction


Baltimore Center for Green Careers

By Alison Waldman, SparkAction
Click the link at the bottom to read the full story

At one point in his life, Jerrell Henry wasn’t sure what the future would hold.

Growing up in Baltimore, he didn’t have a college degree and saw no opportunity to get a steady, paying job. He was on the pathway to a series of jobs that barely paid the bills, and wouldn’t give him a career.

Then he heard about Baltimore Center for Green Careers (BCGC), which offers local, hands-on training in green jobs.

So he tried it. Jerrell is now fully employed with a local company only weeks after the program’s end. That’s no small feat in Baltimore, where unemployment is considerably higher than the national average, especially among young African American males.

“I loved the program,” he says. “They kept us on our toes. They helped us learn about speaking to employees, and gave us job readiness.”

BCGC is one of several Corps programs honored at The Corps Network’s 2013 Conference in Washington, DC, in February.

Corps are comprehensive youth development programs in cities and states that provide young people with job training, academic programming and leadership training through experience in service. A direct descendant of the Depression-era Civilian Conservation Corps, today’s Corps have been growing in recognition and enrollment as the economy leaves more young people out of work and unsure of the next step to a steady career.

This year’s conference covered the ways that Corps can improve programs to better serve opportunity youth—young people ages 16 to 24 who are not in school or connected to the workforce. It also looked at how federal funding streams like the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) can be used to bring effective Corps programs to scale, and celebrated the best programs and members through its 2013 Corpsmembers awards and Corps Projects of the Year.

Here's a closer look at a growing green-jobs success story in Baltimore.

Civic Works Historic Headquarters Gets a Makeover


Story by Christie Ileto of CBS Baltimore. Click here for a link to the orginial story and a video newscast on the Clifton House renovations

BALTIMORE (WJZ) — An iconic Baltimore landmark with centuries of history is getting a much-needed facelift.

Christie Illeto explains what a $7 million renovation means for the Clifton Mansion.

Seven million dollars in major renovations. That’s what the more than 200-year-old Clifton Mansion is getting to restore its crumbling facade which towers over Baltimore.

“The building has certainly suffered from its age,” said Dana Stein, executive director of Civic Works.

The project kicked off Monday and Stein says it’s much needed.

“Many layers of paint have been peeling. We have this great walnut staircase which is in really good shape,” Stein said.

The centuries-old Italianate stucco home currently serves as a recreational resource and houses the nonprofit Civic Works which, among other things, heads job training programs. But the home once belonged to War of 1812 hero Henry Thompson and philanthropist Johns Hopkins.

Members of the Hopkins family say it’s about preserving history.

“One of the things he did a lot was entertain,” a member of the Hopkins family said. “That’s exactly what we’re going to have today is a fantastic house with lots of people coming through it.”

Civic Works, who took over the mansion in the 1990s, say they’ve needed this renovation for decades. Work will include installing heating and air conditioning systems, repairing the crumbling porch and the iconic tower which overlooks the city.

The $7 million comes from tax credits and donations.

“To be able to accomplish this in our difficult fiscal times really sends a strong message about how people feel about the importance of this project,” said Congressman John Sarbanes.

It’s a renovation that will keep the Clifton Mansion towering over Baltimore and a piece of history standing. Most of the renovations are expected to be finished within a year.

The Clifton Mansion is one of a few remaining Italianate villas in the U.S. and is on the National Registry.




2013 Project of the Year, Real Food Farm of Civic Works

Before Civic Works broke ground on their Real Food Farm in October 2009, Baltimore, MD had no significant urban farms. Because of its history with youth development and community outreach, Civic Works was selected by the Baltimore Urban Agriculture Taskforce as the perfect organization to operate a “demonstration farm.” Now, just a few years after they planted their first seeds, the Real Food Farm has inspired the creation of numerous urban farms and reached thousands of Baltimore residents through educational programs and efforts to increase access to fresh food.

Real Food Farm continues to grow, but for now it covers about six acres of land in Baltimore’s Clifton Park. The farm is comprised of high-tunnel hoop houses made from steel pipes and plastic sheeting, as well as open fields with trees and rows of vegetables. In 2012, Real Food Farm harvested nearly 15,800 lbs. of food, established 6 beehives, planted 60 fruit trees, installed 2 rain gardens & 1 berry patch, began the process of producing mushrooms, and expanded a composting project.

The mission of Real Food Farm is fourfold: make fresh fruits and vegetables more available to low-income Baltimore families; help grow Baltimore’s urban agricultural sector; provide experience-based education and leverage the farm as a learning tool; and promote sustainable land use. Civic Works uses various methods to achieve the Farm’s first goal of improving food access. The Mobile Farmer’s Market, a converted Washington Post delivery truck, makes home deliveries and pre-arranged stops in and around the Clifton Park Neighborhood. The Mobile Market accepts EBT (Electronic Benefit Transfer) payments made with Independence Cards, with additional incentives for those using SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) funds. Real Food Farm also runs a community-supported agriculture (CSA) program with adjustments that allow low-income families to join.

The main way the farm achieves its second goal of inspiring more urban farm development is by getting the community involved. This past year, 457 volunteers spent 1,292 hours working on various farm projects. Additionally, Real Food Farm held events and training sessions that attracted nearly 600 people. A number of former Corpsmembers have gone on to work at or start urban farms, with one former Real Food Farm AmeriCorps VISTA starting the Farm Alliance of Baltimore; a collective of small urban farms that share tools and hold joint community markets.

Internships for high school students, demonstrations, field trips for school groups, and after-school programs are ways Real Food Farm achieves its third goal of educating people about sustainable farming and where food comes from.  In 2012, 883 students from 13 local schools visited the Farm during field trips and 43 students regularly attended educational programming. Through the Farm Lab program, the farm has developed curricula for math classes, to art classes, to English classes. Kids in grades K-12 have all enjoyed field trips at the farm.

Real Food Farm’s fourth goal is realized through the farm’s use of sustainable practices. The farm is built on what were once underutilized sports fields next to two schools. They use rain gardens and are constructing a bioswale to reduce runoff and improve groundwater quality. The property now has a large composting project underway, and the farm recently acquired an industrial-sized freezer for preserving food.

Before 2009, Civic Works – and Baltimore itself – had little experience with urban agriculture. Corpsmembers and staff attended workshops, conferences, and training sessions to learn how to make the farm successful. Now, through plenty of hard work from Corpsmembers, Civic Works staff, and Baltimore volunteers, Real Food Farm is giving back to the community in big ways.

2013 Corps Legacy Achievement Award winner, Ira Okun

Much of Ira Okun’s career has been dedicated to serving youth and improving communities. Ira began his career as a caseworker for Los Angeles County in 1955. He eventually became a probation officer, and later served as the Superintendant of Marin County’s Juvenile Hall. After years of working in the youth correctional field, however, Ira decided he wanted to work in prevention programs.

Following his service as the Deputy Director of Peace Corps operations in Ghana from 1968 to 1971, Ira took a series of leadership positions at various California-based nonprofit organizations serving youth and families. For more than four years he was the Executive Director of the Charila Foundation, which offered a residential program for troubled teenage girls. He also spent over two years as the Executive Director of Coleman Children and Youth Services, advocating for neglected and abused children. Ira then spent 13 years serving as the CEO of Family Service Agency of San Francisco, a multi-program human service agency with over 16,000 clients in 28 different service systems.

After Ira retired from the Family Service Agency in 1990, he formed Nonprofit Organization Services. Through NPOS, Ira has spent the last two decades consulting numerous nonprofit organizations, including The Corps Network and many individual Corps. Ira provided the impetus and foundational work for the development of The Corps Network’s Excellence in Corps Operations (ECO) Standards Process. In 1993, Ira became the founding president of the California Association of Local Conservation Corps (CALCC), which has allowed the California Corps movement to double in size from 7 Corps at CALCC’s inception to the 14 Corps located throughout California today. CALCC has been an effective advocate for Corps and has helped generate much needed income for improving and expanding programs for at-risk youth.

Ira has earned his reputation as the preeminent national expert and consultant to the Corps community in areas such as strategic planning, growth management, and organizational development. Beginning in 1993, Ira has made annual visits to consult with Civic Works in Baltimore. His insight and suggestions have helped improve Civic Works’ programs, operating mechanisms, and finances. Ira’s wisdom has also been beneficial to the Hawaii Youth Conservation Corps. His guidance helped the executive team of HYCC develop a larger non-profit called KUPU, which today serves thousands of individuals in Hawaii.

In addition to his service to Civic Works and HYCC, Ira has had a major impact on the development of numerous other Corps programs, including San Francisco Conservation Corps, Southwest Conservation Corps, Conservation Corps Minnesota and Iowa, American YouthWorks, Los Angeles Conservation Corps,Utah Conservation Corps, Rocky Mountain Youth Corps, and the Colorado Youth Corps Association. He also long been someone The Corps Network has turned to for suggestions.

Ira has graciously provided his wisdom and experience to so many, and his actions have created tremendous ripples in the conservation and non-profit communities nationwide. His life has impacted thousands and thousands of individuals who are probably not even aware of his numerous and significant contributions to the Corps movement.  As said by John Leong, Executive Director of KUPU, “Ira is a living gem.”


2005 Corpsmember of the Year: Kim Alston


Kim Alston is one of the brightest lights of Civic Works.  She labors daily in some of Baltimore’s most desolate neighborhoods, converting abandoned, trash-strewn lots into vibrant, thriving green spaces and places of community pride.  While a Civic Works corpsmember, Kim has worked on various community-sponsored efforts and environmental restoration; represented Civic Works in Annapolis, MD at meetings of the Governor’s Office on Service and Volunteerism; and represented her peers on the Inter-Corps Council.  Kim is a young woman who aspires to work in the areas of engineering and wetlands restoration.  She is well on the way to integrating hands-on practical applications and theory. 

-- “Having witnessed the profound effect that our corps group offers to the city by planting flowers and trees, which improve the aesthetic value of an area as well as the quality of life for the people, has heightened my understanding of the benefit and necessity of community service work.”