<strong>Kirberg Co. Vice President Darrell Connell says the company's green roofing systems help manage air quality, insulation and storm-water runoff. The firm recently completed the Greene County Public Safety Center roof, where plants cover nearly 13,000 square feet.</strong><hr />
Kirberg Co. Vice President Darrell Connell says the company's green roofing systems help manage air quality, insulation and storm-water runoff. The firm recently completed the Greene County Public Safety Center roof, where plants cover nearly 13,000 square feet.
When Kirberg Co. Vice President Darrell Connell talks about green roofing systems, he is referring to roofing systems literally green with plants.

The St. Louis-based company, which has operated in Springfield since 1995, recently completed the green roof for the Greene County Public Safety Center. The roof, which was funded by a $475,750 Department of Energy grant, contains 1,613 trays of plants covering 12,904 square feet of the roof.

“The plants help with air quality as well as storm-water run-off,” says Connell, who serves as Kirberg’s western regional manager over the Springfield and Kansas City offices. “It also helps with insulation, which gives an energy savings and protects the roof underneath the plants.”

About eight to 10 plants per tray are placed over a drainage pad to catch overflow water. The pad covers a traditional roof. When the plants mature in a few months, the trays will be completely covered.

Greene County Administrator Tim Smith says the building is expected to be complete by the end of June.

The roof is one of only a handful of its type on Springfield commercial buildings. Two other projects that have a green roofing system are the Green Circle Shopping Center and the maintenance building at Valley Water Mill Park.

Kirberg Co. has completed several green roofing projects in St. Louis, but the safety center’s roof is the company’s first in Springfield.

The company also works on traditional commercial roofs for such clients as Kraft Foods, Missouri State University, Springfield Public Schools, Dairy Farmers of America and Missouri Southern State University in Joplin.

Springfield engine
Kirberg Co. was founded in 1920 by Charles Kirberg, a German immigrant who had experience building the steep-pitched roofs used in turn-of-the-century German architecture.

Kirberg passed his company down to his son, Otto Kirberg, and in 1976, grandson Douglas Kirberg took the helm. Today, his sons, Eric and Charles, are fourth-generation owners.

The company decided to expand out of the St. Louis area in 1985 by opening a satellite office in Jefferson City. In 1995, the company bought out Springfield-based Ozark Roofing after the owner, Jim Shaw, died.

“Out of all of the branches, our Springfield office has been very successful,” co-owner Eric Kirberg says, noting the Springfield office has been instrumental in the company recently expanding into Arkansas and Oklahoma. “The region seems to have its own life with a good work force.”

With companywide revenues of $23 million in 2011, the Springfield operation accounts for roughly a fourth of revenues.

After a drop in local revenue to $3.5 million in 2010 from $5 million in 2009, Kirberg’s Springfield business rebounded last year to $6 million.

“Budgets were largely set in 2009, but the economy finally caught up with Springfield later,” Connell says.

Since coming to the Springfield market, Connell says the company has grown each year, with the exception of 2010. The firm is projecting $30 million in 2012 and $8 million for the Springfield area. The company now employs 40 in the Springfield area, up from an original 12 employees. In 2008, Kirberg moved its Springfield operations from 3252 N. FR 143 to a larger 11,860-square-foot space at 1140 N. Eldon Road.

Green interests
Connell began his career with Ozark Roofing in 1978 and transitioned when Kirberg bought the company. Connell says the biggest change he has witnessed in the commercial roofing market is the shift in emphasis from traditional built-up asphalt roofs in which multiple layers of hot asphalt are applied, to single-ply roofs, which are flexible sheets of compounded, recyclable materials.

Connell says traditional built-up roofs had comprised 40 percent of the commercial roofing market, but that segment has now shrunk to 10 percent for Kirberg. Single-ply roofs account for 40 percent of the company’s local roofing jobs, and the other 50 percent is in rubber roofs and modified roofs, which are modified sheets that can be coated for protection.

Norman Shryock, commercial sales representative for Spec Building Materials Corp. in Springfield, says the company has been providing Kirberg roofing supplies since 1995.

Shryock says commercial roofing varies from residential roofing, in part, because quality commercial roofers understand the importance of participating in the overall construction process.

“We’re fortunate in Springfield to have several companies who really get this,” Shryock says. “Kirberg is one of them.”

Shryock says Kirberg’s orders with Spec Building Materials decreased by 20 percent in 2011, but it is on a pace to meet or exceed last year’s sales in 2012.

Connell says the marketplace is highly interested in green roofing systems, but when project budgets are cut, that is typically the first item to be eliminated. Connell says if a project is bidding at $15 per square foot for a traditional roof, it can soar to $35 per square foot with the green plant roofs.

“The codes really aren’t dictating the green industry here yet,” he says.  

Smith says the county wouldn’t have been able to afford the green roofing system without the federal grant. “We were originally seeking that grant for the historic courthouse, but we learned that the building wouldn’t support it,” he says.

The grant’s terms included a 50 percent match, which was done by leveraging the money already being spent on the new center. Smith says the roof makes the amount of storm-water run-off negligible. He says new Environmental Protection Agency regulations mandating a reduction in storm-water run-off and pollution may make such commercial projects mainstream in the future.

“The cost will become viable if the EPA mandates change,” Smith says. “Companies and organizations might have to put the money into the cost of compliance or fines.”