Steve Hewitt at the Incubator's Grand Opening in April (photo credit scharlton)
In another important milestone in Greensburg's rebuilding, the community is now home to a commercial LEED Platinum building, which received its official certification from the U.S. Green Building Council late this summer. In an interview conducted recently with Greensburg City Administrator Steve Hewitt, he commented on what it took to achieve the accomplishment that is the City of Greensburg Sun Chips Business Incubator.
"Personally, any time you are able to complete a project of that magnitude, it is very satisfying. It is a great achievement. We had a goal to make the building LEED Platinum. I had a personal commitment to get it built the best possible. I know how difficult Platinum is to achieve, and am very proud of City staff, the engineers, architects, contractors who were able to adapt and make this building work for our city. We did it right."
The idea behind an incubator is to provide an affordable, temporary home where people can grow their businesses over a period of several years before moving out on their own to give other new business concerns a space. The Incubator is home to a wide variety of merchants and professionals, some of whom have come back after the tornado, others of which are new to town. They include a massage therapist, glass art studio, green paint store, hand bag shop, the County newspaper, attorneys, a counselor, an accounting firm, and the Kiowa County Economic Development office. A coffee shop is coming soon.
Thanks to the generosity of the donors, the project has no debt. Steve is pleased with the utility bills so far. "It’s a real savings for the business owners. Before the storm, some downtown merchants had monthly utility costs of $600-700."
Throughout the interview, Steve kept bringing it back to how much of a team effort this project has been, made possible by architectural firms MVP and BNIM; funders Sun Chips, USDA Rural Development, and Leonardo DiCaprio; the subcontractors; and Greensburg City staff. Assistant City Administrator Kim Alderfer added that even though the contractor had no previous experience with building a LEED Plaltinum structure, "They did a wonderful job working with our architects and engineers to make that process run smoothly, from documentation to site control of waste products." The Incubator boasts a host of energy efficiency features and sustainable elements. For details, check out GreenTown's Sustainable Building Data Base.
Steve reflected on the importance of LEED certification to the City of Greensburg, which passed a resolution in December 2007 that all new City buildings over 4,000 square feet would be built to Platinum certification levels. (Readers can access that resolution here.) The new business building "continues to show the City’s commitment. Our number one goal with the Incubator is to help businesses. It is an extremely intelligent, strong and safe building."
When asked what was the most challenging aspect part of the project, Steve noted that "building LEED Platinum was an unknown. It was a completely new realm for everybody. In a way the building was a guinea pig; there were many lessons learned. You don’t build a LEED building the same way you do a typical commercial building. There are different mixes and factors associated with LEED. There are a lot of unknowns and there is a lot of trial and error involved. It is very difficult to achieve LEED Platinum; that's the reason there aren't many buildings built this way. Kim noted that the staff is "still learning. The mechanical room is a testament to the technology involved with the building and the educational process that we are still going through to get the building to operate at optimal efficiency."
As far as Steve knows, this is the first time that such a small commercial facility has gone for LEED Platinum certification. "How to push all these LEED elements into such a small [10,000 square feet] space was a challenge."
Steve was asked if he would recommend that other communities go for LEED Platinum in their new buildings. He said the cost per square foot is a decision that would have to be made carefully. But, he said, "there is no excuse to not build to at least LEED Silver standards, even if you don’t actually go after the formal certification, if a community truly cares about its employees, their health, and fiscal responsibility."