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Kansas Tornado Town Rebuilding With an Eye Toward Sustainability

July 22, 2011

By John Gregerson
This article originally appeared on Engineering News-Record

More than four years after an EF5 tornado flattened Greensburg, Kan., and killed 11 of its 1,500 residents, business and home owners continue to rebuild in a fashion that embraces sustainable design, if not more stringent building codes.

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“We adopted the International Building Code in 2006 and haven't made any changes since then,” says Greensburg Mayor Bob Dixon.

However, the majority of those who have rebuilt have incorporated safe rooms into their homes and workplaces. Further, if the rebuilding received financial assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the rooms were constructed to meet FEMA standards.

After consulting with the Dept. of Energy's National Renewable Energy Lab, residents and town planners also elected to rebuild Greensburg as a model green community, an initiative that has put the town back on the map as “Americas greenest community.”

In 2007, the Greensburg City Council approved a resolution requiring all city projects meet LEED platinum standards. A new arts center is powered by its own wind turbine and incorporates geothermal heating and cooling, while a series of “eco-homes” showcase green building materials and practices for residents and local builders. Greensburg also has replaced all streetlights with LED bulbs. “We're a living laboratory where you can see a little bit of everything,” says Dixon.

Once it is completely rebuilt, the city intends to consume 100% renewable energy. Rebuilding work is about 60% to 65% complete, says Dixon. “We originally thought, we're rural American Midwesterners who will pull [ourselves] up by the bootstraps. But the truth is, it has been an ongoing process,” he says. “It takes time.”

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