Greensburg Icon Rebuilt "Green"

By Jim Ladesich | September 28, 2010

Less than a year after a devastating tornado leveled Greensburg, Kansas, on May 4, 2007, the first commercial reconstruction had taken root along the rural town's Main Street. More than 95 percent of the town's structures were destroyed or severely damaged when the 200-mph winds of the huge, F-5 storm engulfed the town.

Like the mythical Phoenix, the Care & Share Thrift Shop & Food Pantry, operated by the Greensburg Ministerial Alliance, arose from the rubble over the course of an often challenging winter to be dedicated last March. The construction is credited to volunteer teams coordinated by Side-by-Side International, a non-denominational service organization established by Strickland Construction Company, a Butler Builder in Olathe, Kansas. Mishler Construction Company, another Butler Builder based in Frederick, Colorado, also responded to the catastrophe with a cleanup effort soon after the storm and an interior finish team for the 5,000-square-foot store.

The one-year anniversary of the storm was the subject of extensive national news coverage May 4, highlighted by a visit from President George Bush, who addressed the high school graduating class.

A History Of Reaching Out

The generous initiative is not new to Strickland Construction, and by extension the contractor's non-profit, Side-by-Side service organization. Strickland has donated and constructed approximately 30 buildings in impoverished villages in Central America, Sri Lanka, Brazil, Jamaica, and hurricane-ravaged Mississippi. Frederick, Colo.-based Mishler Corporation's principal, Del Fast, has a prior history of working with Mennonite outreach teams.

The Greensburg building has an early 20th Century character but incorporates state-of-the-art design features. Strickland recruited a USGBC LEED-certified engineering consultant, subcontractors, youth and church groups, individual donors and suppliers to create the material requirements for the replacement store that was designed to energy-efficient, sustainable standards. BlueScope Steel, the parent company of Butler, extended Strickland Construction a generous discount on the metal building applied to the project.

The "green" design features of the thrift shop are in lockstep with those that BNIM Architects, Kansas City, Mo., incorporated into the town's reconstruction master plan. The overall effort is the subject of a 13-part television series that will air on Planet Earth, a new television venture by The Discovery Channel. Leonardo DiCaprio, movie actor and environmental activist, has had a role in promoting the rebirth of Greensburg as a model eco-friendly community rebuilt around sustainable design features.

Symbolic Foundation For Rebuilding

"It was obvious that the town needed some sign of commercial reconstruction to get underway as soon as possible, which made metal building systems construction the logical choice for the project," reflected Rogers Strickland, CEO of Strickland Construction. "The philosophy of Side-by-Side is to get involved with projects, normally faith-based, that benefit an entire community.

"The thrift shop had operated for 25 years, which made it an ideal candidate for our help," he added. "Rebuilding the shop as a volunteer initiative also made a statement that you don't always have to wait on federal money to respond to a disaster."

Since committing to the project in July 2007, the Strickland-led initiative raised more than $350,000 in donated cash, discounted materials or services for the project that involved 20 contributing partners. Design was underway by August and construction proceeded often during challenging winter conditions following a formal groundbreaking. Hernly Associates, of Lawrence, Kan., served as project architects, and PKMR Engineers, a LEED-certified firm in Overland Park, Kan., acted as the mechanical and electrical design engineers.

Working within a limited budget with the donated resources, Strickland applied a variety of Butler building products, including the structural framing system with a 3-inch foamboard-insulated foundation, MR-24® standing seam metal roof system that was insulated to an R-38 rating, and pre-insulated (R-16) 2-inch metal wall panels for the sides and rear wall. The streetscape frontage has a rural vintage character common to many small-town brick storefronts except it incorporates double-pane, low-E glazing. Insulated skylights, an energy-efficient HVAC system and a 3700-CFM ventilation system for transitional season air circulation for cooling are other energy-efficient features. Comparable attention was paid to the high-efficiency lighting whose 60 fixtures can selectively deliver 75-foot candles in two zones.

"It means a lot to us to have the Thrift Shop operating again," said Pastor Marvin George, president of the Greensburg Ministerial Alliance. "For years, food drives and up to $15,000 a year in proceeds from the store's sales of donated items have benefited the needy in Greensburg and surrounding Kiowa County. That is why so many things about this new building were symbolic of how our community is coming back together."

Although there are signs of progress, much remains to be done before Greensburg becomes a model community of eco-friendly buildings. To fully appreciate the impact of the storm, consider that the town's footprint was approximately two miles wide. The funnel was 1.7 miles wide when it howled through Greensburg and claimed 11 lives immediately in its wake. The havoc unleashed that night made national news about a quaint rural town (population 1,400) that was most noted before the storm as the site of the biggest hand-dug well and for a half-ton meteorite that had been retrieved years ago from a farm field east of town. Aerial news photos reminded many of Hiroshima after the atomic bomb.