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Imagine checking out a book on growing a rutabaga at a new Downtown library, hopping an elevator to the rooftop and then planting one.

A grass-roots group is pushing for perhaps the world's first rooftop community garden atop a metropolitan central library.

"The Downtown area of Madison is lacking community gardens," said Kevin Schiesser, a spokesperson for the fledgling Downtown Community Gardens Group. A garden atop a new central library "could be a real thriving scene."

The developer behind a proposed $37 million six-story, glass and stone library says a "green roof" is desirable, but that a community garden may be impractical and too costly, perhaps adding $3 million to the project cost.

"All things are possible with an unlimited budget," said William Kunkler, executive vice president of The Fiore Cos., which has proposed a new library at the corner of Henry Street and West Washington Avenue as part of a larger redevelopment. "We have committed ourselves to exploring the possibility of it. At the end of the day, the conclusion will likely be it's too expensive for community garden space."

Mayor Dave Cieslewicz, who included a new library in his proposed capital budget for 2010, likes the concept but also believes it may be impractical, spokeswoman Rachel Strauch-Nelson said.

The City Council will decide the mayor's proposal to build the library on the week of Nov. 10.

Rooftop gardens produce healthy, local food, cut energy costs, reduce water runoff and bring other advantages, according to the garden group, which formed this spring and has about a dozen core members.

A library garden would have raised beds about 30 inches tall for growing tomatoes, basil and all sorts of vegetables and herbs covering about 25 percent of the roof, Schiesser said.

The space would be accessible to everyone and offer views of the State Capitol, Overture Center and the lakes, he said.

Restaurants and grocery stores in Chicago grow vegetables on rooftops, and Milwaukee has a rooftop community-supported agriculture garden, he said.

Fiore, Kunkler said, favors an "extensive green roof," which would cost about $250,000 and require about three inches of special topsoil for smaller plants that help hold water, purify air and reflect heat.

But an "intensive green roof" sought by the garden group would need 18 to 24 inches of soil, irrigation, guard rails, compost and tool storage, stairs, an elevator and other improvements costing about $3 million, Kunkler said. It's probably more cost-effective to acquire space for more community gardens, he said.

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