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Local man finds eager customer for ‘green roof’ concept


Published:   |   Updated: June 22, 2014 at 06:52 AM

When Jimmy Sterling graduated from Central High in 1999, he wasn’t too worried about his future. He grew up under the watchful and successful scrutiny of entrepreneurial parents James and Connie Sterling, who owned and operated C. Sterling Roofing and Sterling Marina in Hernando Beach.

And he had the gift of ambition. Yet it is unlikely that even he understood the magnitude of that ambition.

Sterling sat comfortably in a chair on the second-floor porch of his parent’s business as June breezes filtered off a Hernando Beach canal.

Sterling wanted to talk about “green” roofing, a relatively new concept that has become a commercial option for his residential and commercial roofing company based in Jacksonville.

He still was burning through the excitement of a major project, just completed, that put Sterling Roofing at the forefront of vegetated roofing. Starbucks Café in Downtown Disney was the first to incorporate a green roof, and Sterling Roofing was the contracted company.

Starbucks always is pioneering some new concept, Sterling said, which made it fitting it would be the one to embrace the idea of a green roof.

The result is amazing, set with ultraviolet lighting and filled with more than 600 plants.

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The project at Starbucks happened because Sterling and his friend, Kevin Songer, built a green roof for Breaking Ground Construction that took off on social media.

Songer, who is savvy with the botanical chemistry of plants and greenhouses, is the creative mastermind behind the process.

When Starbucks executive David Daniels set out to find a company to build Starbucks’ green roof, he stumbled on Sterling and Songer.

A green roof, Sterling said, establishes and cultivates greenery on top of a commercial roof. The concept is simple, he said. With designs and ingenuity provided by Songer and colleague Tad Davis, along with Sterling’s roofing expertise, the three have built several such roofs in Jacksonville and surrounding areas.

Sterling hopes the Starbucks’ roof will be seen by the thousands of people who travel through Downtown Disney and help spur interest in green roofs elsewhere in Florida.

Green roofs are a difficult sell because most people believe they are complicated and expensive to build, difficult to maintain and prone to failing.

“And many do fail,” Sterling said. “But those that do likely weren’t done correctly or monitored.”

He explained that the science behind the green roof takes analysis and planning. Types of plants, designs of irrigation systems, wind tests and other factors are considered before a plan is drawn.

Green roofs help the environment by cleaning storm water runoff and reducing heat in urban areas, he said.

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Perhaps one day Sterling’s vision might bring him back to his roots in Hernando, where his ambition to open a roofing company took shape.

After graduating from high school, Sterling went to Chowan University in Murfreesboro, N.C., where he studied biology and played football. He returned to Hernando, met his future wife, Kristy, and settled in to work.

But the plunging economy that devastated the building industry in the county sent him searching elsewhere to start fresh and build a sister company to his father’s established business. He and Kristy and their young daughter, Kayla, moved to Jacksonville, where Kristy had family. There, Sterling launched his business.

In the beginning, it was just him alone until he could afford to bring on employees. He now has a team of 46.

He focuses mainly on residential roofing jobs.

Sterling’s father, James, said he wouldn’t be surprised if his son’s ambition leads him back where he began — building green roofs atop businesses in Hernando County. “You bet I’m proud of him,” James Sterling said.

The younger Sterling remains modest about his accomplishments. He credited mentors in his life, including his brother, Taylor Hawkins, and a friend and fellow roofer, Bill Whitman, “for teaching me how to be a good roofer.”

He also praised his family including his parents, wife and children: 7-year old Kayla; 3-year-old Jimmy and 1-year-old Rayna.

His wife, he said, was the driving force for his success. “With Kristy’s support and faith, I know I can do anything. Without her, none of what I have done would have been achieved.”

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