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Beyond Buildings

Green commercial development involves not only buildings themselves, but managing stormwater on building sites. “In Dane County and Madison, it’s mandatory to keep ninety percent of rainwater on the property in new developments,” says Susan Priebe, vice president of Earth & Water Works, or E&W. “On undeveloped land only about ten percent of rainwater leaves the property; with traditional development, about seventy-five percent does.”

Her company designs and builds rain gardens and other systems to keep stormwater from leaving properties. Home Savings Bank’s eastside branch had a rain garden, with native plants designed to help water infiltrate slowly into the ground, “But we made recommendations to get the water infiltrating better and added plantings to make it mirror the prairie style of the building,” says Ellen Rulseh, company president.

“I first heard about rain gardens from Roger Bannerman, a guru on the subject from the state Department of Natural Resources,” she says. “I thought it was a brilliant way for people to do something relatively low tech that makes a big difference in conserving ground water and keeping pollutants from our lakes and streams while creating beauty.”

The company also creates green roofs, where plants help moderate building temperatures and minimize runoff. “Living walls are starting to become popular too–you grow plant material vertically, on the outside of a building,” says Priebe. “There aren’t any in Madison yet, but we have a prospective commercial client interested.”

Rain gardens and green roofs do a wonderful job of infiltrating rain–or snow–during smaller storms, indicates Mike Dailey, principal engineer for the city of Madison. “But they aren’t the end-all for stormwater management.” For that you need more elaborate systems.

E&W recently completed such a project with Ruedebusch Development and Construction. “We expanded a parking lot on an existing project site at Truax Park,” explains Carl Chenoweth, a civil engineer and manager for Ruedebusch. To manage stormwater, “We put in a drainage ditch running south of and eventually into Starkweather Creek, with an artificial wetland downstream of the drainage ditch leading to the creek’s watershed.”

The system is designed to treat runoff from the parking lot. “We designed it, and E&W helped with the permits and built it,” says Chenoweth.

The next thing you’ll see will be pervious pavements, which are used in warmer climates, Dailey indicates. “We’re following a Chicago study where they’re putting a strip of porous pavement down the center of alleys,” he says. “It’s working well in that climate, so it could work well for a commercial site here.”

Back to School

Gorman & Company has completed eighteen historic renovation projects, rehabilitating buildings and sites, usually in challenged urban or suburban areas, restoring the land and buildings to usefulness. Gary Gorman, president, has observed an eco-friendly trend in many of the communities he works with.

“The communities are working with employers to create affordable workforce housing in proximity to the businesses so residents don’t have to drive to work,” he says. “With the historic Gund Brewery project in La Crosse, there’s workforce housing within walking distance of the Gunderson Clinic.

“We worked with the clinic to determine what rent levels employees could and would pay,” Gorman continues. “It’s a mixed-income project; some units are at market rate, some are more affordable. That kind of cooperation between local governments, developers and employers results in environmentally friendly, walk-to-work housing.”

Gorman’s new company headquarters is in a renovated schoolhouse in Oregon. “One person in accounting moved to Oregon; she walks her daughter to school next door to us, and then walks over to work,” he says.

“We wanted an interesting place–we need to attract and retain talented people in order to grow, and those people have choices when they graduate from school,” he continues. The historic building features a gymnasium, a fifties-style lunchroom with a jukebox, and a bar.

“We have ‘Scotch Fridays’ at 5 p.m.; I play the jukebox as a signal that people can go to the bar, and I bartend,” says Gorman. “That goofy, nontraditional atmosphere is intriguing to young people.”

The building has highly efficient mechanicals (heating, ventilating and air conditioning systems), windows, and lighting, along with sustainable flooring and finishes. “Alliant Energy looked at the building’s energy use before and after the renovation, and it was going to be so much better that they financed that part of the project,” Gorman says.

The building has fifteen different heating and cooling zones. “If one zone gets direct sunlight, the heating and cooling system adjusts for that,” Gorman notes.

It’s more expensive to rehabilitate historic buildings, he adds. “You’re trying to fit new uses to old spaces–things tend not to be straight and square and flat,” he says. “And your materials have to replicate the original ones–you can’t just come in with vinyl windows.”

You also have to meet the requirements of local, state and federal governments, he adds. “But, if you can assemble non-traditional financing, it’s financially feasible. We had Alliant’s investment, tax incremental financing, an investor using a tax credit, and money the State Land Trust lent to the Village of Oregon, which lent it to us.”