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Greensburg Contemplates Its Green Future

February 6th, 2008

By Barbara Kessler

As communities in Tennessee, Kentucky, Alabama and Arkansas sift through damage from deadly tornadoes that tore through last night, another town is quietly commemorating its reconstruction after a belly-punch from Mother Nature last year.greensburg-incubator.jpg

On May 4, 2007, 95 percent of the homes and businesses in Greenburg, Kan., were virtually wiped away by a massive, slow-moving EF5 tornado that scraped a 2-mile-wide path. The result left the already economically depressed town wondering if it would have a future.

The ultimate answer was, yes, there was a reason to rebuild Greensburg, but only if it truly lived up to its name. The townspeople launched an ambitious green initiative to make the town “a model for rural America.”

As part of its plan, the Greensburg City Council passed a resolution that all city building projects would meet the top LEED rating of Platinum, making Greensburg the first municipality in the United States to aim for that highest standard for all new construction.

The business of greening Greensburg kicked off with a Resource Conference and celebration this week (Feb. 5-6). Discovery Channel, which is filming Greensburg’s rebirth for a series called “Eco-Town” to air next year, will host the big celebration. Among those attending will be Rick Fedrizzi, founder and President of the U.S. Green Building Council, which oversees LEED certification.

Already the town, with a current population of 800 living mostly in FEMA temporary housing, has several important projects underway:

  • Feb. 1 saw the groundbreaking for a John Deere dealership that will include wind turbines and other green features.
  • In January, Dwane Shank Motors and General Motors broke ground on a new green dealership that will feature energy-efficient skylights, special windows that maximize the use of sunlight, water-saving fixtures in the bathrooms, and cellulose insulation with a high R-value.
  • Blueprints are ready and bids will soon be let for a business incubator building that will make use of passive solar heat, natural day lighting, have its own wind generation and use renewable materials throughout. City leaders hope to have a building on the ground by late summer 2008. (See concept drawing above.)
  • The nonprofit Greensburg Green Town was created to provide the town’s residents with the resources, information and support they need to rebuild Greensburg as a model green community.
  • Construction is underway on 101 new homes, with repairs and construction of another 300+ buildings ongoing.

Ultimately, plans call for the town in southwest Kansas to have a new platinum LEED-rated city hall, school, arts center, library and visitors center – replacing buildings that were total losses in the tornado and helping lure back tourists and more residents, more than a third of whom were forced to leave after the tornado.

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