While many of the nation’s biggest cities do not have a single platinum development, BTI was not even the first building in Greensburg to receive it. That distinction goes to the 1,670-square-foot Arts Center at the center of town, designed, built and opened a year ago by graduate students of the University of Kansas School of Architecture. The center is powered by windmills and a bank of solar photovoltaic panels, and heated and cooled by a state-of-the-art geothermal system. It was the first LEED-platinum building in Kansas.
That such visionary development is occurring in this sun-washed, wind-whipped agricultural community of 900 residents can be attributed to a single event: a monstrous tornado in May 2007 that killed 11 people.
In the weeks after, as federal and state officials assessed the damage and estimated the cost of rebuilding, business and civic leaders gathered with residents to come up with a reconstruction plan. The most important goal, city leaders said in interviews, was to build a sense of economic dynamism that would generate new businesses and jobs and persuade Greensburg’s talented young people not to leave.
“We had the chance to start over,” Mr. Estes said. “What do you do when you start with a clean slate? You want to build it better. Right?”
And so his company decided to incorporate in the new dealership — the old one was wrecked in the tornado — design features like skylights and electrical systems that cut energy use by half, plumbing fixtures that save almost 40,000 gallons of water a year, and two wind turbines out back that spin in a steady wind and generate a part of the dealership’s electricity.
The first gatherings after the tornado produced a surprising civic consensus in a community where “green roofs” and the “heat island effect” were foreign concepts. As Dea Corns, a real estate agent who manages the Greensburg State Bank with her husband, Thomas V. Corns, recalls, “We decided to put the ‘green’ in Greensburg.”
These days, the technical language of the green building world is in everyday use as Greensburg sets out to achieve the distinction that the former Kansas governor, Kathleen Sebelius, now the secretary of Health and Human Services, described in a news conference two years ago. "We have an opportunity of having the greenest town in rural America,” she said.
Last year, leaders approved a redevelopment plan drawn up by the architectural firm BNIM, based in Kansas City, Mo., that called for Greensburg to be a “truly sustainable community that balances the economic, ecological and social impacts of development,” and “a laboratory for research on sustainable design and community development.”
Greensburg also approved an ordinance requiring that all municipal buildings larger than 4,000 square feet be built to LEED-platinum standards, putting it in the forefront among communities in the United States in energy conservation standards.
BTI’s John Deere dealership is a small part of a bustling panorama of development whose total cost is expected to reach $100 million. Financing comes from a mix of federal, state and local sources, and to a surprising degree, private donations.
In April, for example, the city’s 10,000-square-foot $3.4 million business incubator opened on Main Street. Financing for the office building, which offers temporary space at low rents for 10 small businesses, was provided by Frito-Lay, the federal Department of Agriculture and the actor Leonardo DiCaprio.
The 4,700-square-foot $2.9 million City Hall, designed to achieve LEED platinum designation, is about to open at the center of town.
A block away, the 18,800-square-foot Kiowa County Courthouse, built in 1914, is being renovated at a cost of $5 million. The reconstruction includes highly insulated walls, geothermal pumps for heating and cooling, high-performance lighting and controls and other environmental and clean energy features that qualify for LEED gold designation.
Along United States Route 54, the Kiowa County Memorial Hospital, a 48,500 square-foot, $25 million medical building, is under construction and scheduled to open next year.
According to Kiowa County, the new hospital is seeking to become the first LEED platinum critical-access operation in the country. The building incorporates natural light; high-performance insulating glass; light-sensing dimmers; motion sensors; an on-site wind turbine to generate electricity; a bio-swale filtration system to process all waste water from the laundry, showers and lavatories; and a system to capture rain water to flush toilets. Those and other energy conservation features mean that it will not need fuel oil boilers to back up its heating and cooling systems, drastically reducing costs.