Greensburg Working to be Greenest Town in America

Greensburg, Kan. — This town in the midst of flat farmland in western Kansas is, like the old saying goes, making lemonade when life handed it lemons. On May 4, 2007, 95% of the town was leveled by an EF5 tornado. Greensburg has dedicated itself to becoming the greenest city in the country, with its struggles, debates and achievements chronicled in the reality television series “Greensburg” on the Discovery Channel or its spin-off channel Planet Green.

Greensburg, Kan. — This town in the midst of flat farmland in western Kansas is, like the old saying goes, making lemonade when life handed it lemons. On May 4, 2007, 95% of the town was leveled by an EF5 tornado. Greensburg has dedicated itself to becoming the greenest city in the country, with its struggles, debates and achievements chronicled in the reality television series “Greensburg” on the Discovery Channel or its spin-off channel Planet Green.

Corporations big and small have jumped in to help. DuPont has contributed $750,000. Frito-Lay made a major contribution in the name of its Sun Chips brand to go along with the green and sustainable focus of Greensburg's rebuilding.

And the plumbing-heating-cooling industry has joined in as well, with Veiga LLC donating manifolds and PEX tubing for both plumbing and radiant floor heating applications. Caroma USA has donated dual-flush toilets.

What does a small town of 1,400 people do when it's wiped out? It could disappear, with its residents drifting off to nearby Dodge City or Pratt, Kan., or else it could attempt to remake itself as progressive, business oriented town, attractive to commerce and within easy reach of millions of people in Wichita, Amarillo, Colorado Springs and Oklahoma City.

Mayor Robert A. Dixson knows that without jobs, there is no town.

One of the town's first projects is to get businesses back on Main Street with the construction of a Business Incubator Building that will house more than a dozen small businesses and let them get their feet back on the ground. Viega donated PEX tubing and fittings for the plumbing system. It has also donated plumbing materials for the Kiowa County Courthouse.

Mayor Dixson believes sustainable construction is the future and may be the difference between the town just barely hanging on or prospering.

“Cheap energy was a curse,” Dixson told CONTRACTOR, because it impeded development of more efficient methods of building and transportation. Dixson believes that electricity prices will skyrocket with coming deregulation and he wants to build a community wind farm to protect residents from unmanageable electric bills.

Sustainable construction means less waste, lower energy bills and higher housing values, Dixson said, making it worthwhile spending up to 10% more on green construction. Dixson said the biggest impediment is education, letting residents know that green building doesn't mean it has to look like something out of the Jetsons.

Money is an issue. Dixson explained that a young couple could have bought a house in Greensburg for $50,000 and have $25,000 left on the mortgage. After the insurance company pays off, they have $25,000 in cash, but they can't buy another $50,000 house down the street because nothing was left after the tornado. Now they're faced with rebuilding at $100-$120/sq.ft. Nevertheless, Dixson is pleased that so many people in Greensburg are willing to make the investment.

Because of that money issue, donations are welcome. The latest came in August from Viega when it donated Manabloc manifolds, PureFlow PEX tubing and fitting systems to plumb about 300 homes.

“The idea is to donate what amounts to a potable water system for up to 300 homes, including a Manabloc control panel and enough PEX tubing and fittings to accommodate the circulation of hot and cold water through a home,” said Viega President Dan Schmierer.

Viega is headquartered in Wichita, Kan. It's building a new headquarters office building in Wichita and a huge new plant in McPherson, Kan. Viega looks at the donation as helping its neighbors.

“We guesstimated the value of up to $300,000, at list price, over a two to three year period,” Schmierer said. “We're in Kansas, which makes it visible for us and our employees. Second, we're very interested in the green initiative that Greensburg is following. A lead-free potable water system is a very green product. We have also donated a radiant floor heating system or two, which is energy conserving. As an order of magnitude, we have donated about $10,000-$15,000 worth of products so far, a relatively small donation. Now we are about to embark on a more ambitious plan.”

Some vendors have complained that it's difficult to get donations through the green “gatekeepers” at Greensburg, and Schmierer agreed that that is probably the case.

“Although help is appreciated, the town fathers have wisely decided that they need some kind of management process in place to keep it from getting to sensationalized or commercialized,” he said.

Nevertheless, it is doable, and Schmierer said that Jennifer Keller, the company's marketing public relations manager, has been the “internal champion” to get the donations to the town.

The company developed a parts list for two typical homes consisting of a manifold, tubing and either press fit connections or crimp connections, design options that Schmierer compared to Cadillac and Chevrolet-type versions.

Viega has made smaller contributions for other buildings. For the business incubator building, the Viega donation was worth around $7,500. The firm has also supplied material for the Kiowa County Courthouse, highway department maintenance shops, and a Mennonite housing project, donations that will end up totaling approximately $15,000-20,000 for all of those structures.

It is also supplying radiant floor tubing for the Greensburg John Deere dealership that's rebuilding in a new location on the east side of town. The John Deere dealership, run by brothers Mike and Kelly Estes, will use a waste oil boiler, a corn boiler and a high efficiency Lochinvar boiler as backup for those two. The corn boiler is made by Year-A-Round (www.year-a-round.com) and can produce 100,000 - 950,000 Btuh. It will burn any kind of biomass and helps earn a renewable energy credit in the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design under the Energy and Atmosphere category.

The plumber on the John Deere building is R.L. “Bob” Kreutzer, Tatro Plumbing Co., Garden City, Kan., the past president of Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors - National Association in 1991-1992.

“We are sincerely interested in making a difference here,” Schmierer pointed out. “We have lots and lots of case studies involving our products in office buildings, schools, sports arenas, etc. We see this as a good faith effort to make a difference. We recognize that there is good public relations associated with it, but that's not our primary motive here. We wouldn't want this to be an unabashed marketing event. If we were talking about a stadium, we'd blow own horn. Here we see ourselves, particularly with a number of other firms, trying to lend a helping hand. If we appear in a positive light, that's a secondary consideration. We didn't approve the project because it was a marketing effort.”