The Westmoreland Conservation Districts’ conservation campus is growing again.
The 20,000 square foot building next door to both Donohoe Center and the District’s headquarters in the converted barn will soon be transformed into an efficient and practical green space that nonprofit conservation, agricultural and rural development agencies can call “home.”
This building—which goes by the working name “GreenForge”—has been vacant for the past several years. A creative agreement for owning and managing the building has been draft between the Westmoreland County Industrial Development Corporation (building owner) and the Westmoreland Conservation District (property manager).
Greg Phillips, District Manager/CEO, expressed excitement about the project. “GreenForge will take conservation to new levels. As we rent space in this building to both new groups and existing partners, we will have more opportunities for collaboration. We’ll share resources and partner on projects, which will increase the effectiveness of each organization’s work.
“Another exciting element of the GreenForge project is that, in getting the building ready to house these conservation-related organizations, we are doing a “green retrofit.” We are taking a 25-year old commercial building, and installing a variety of leading-edge conservation features that will make its daily operation very energy efficient and easy on the environment. We also are going to make these conservation features part of our education program to show people how they, too, can realize benefits by incorporating them in their own building projects.
“And finally, in the longer-term, GreenForge has the potential to provide a steady source of funding for conservation projects throughout the area, once the building debt is paid off.”
GreenForge will provide much-needed, reasonably priced lease space for the variety of nonprofit conservation, agriculture, environmental, and rural development agencies in the county.
Leases currently are being negotiated with Westmoreland Cleanways and the Progress Fund, and several other organizations have expressed interest in occupying the building, which includes both office and warehouse space.
In addition to reasonable rent, GreenForge also provides agencies with the added benefit of being physically near a significant number of like-minded organizations (including the agencies in the original Donohoe Center building, the District’s barn headquarters, and the Westmoreland County Public Works building).
Sharing a walkable “conservation campus” increases the opportunity for interaction among these groups. The more often they talk and share information, the more likely it is that they will discover opportunities to share resources, combine efforts, and partner on projects—all of which will increase each agency’s organizational capacity as well as the ultimate benefits it can provide to the community.
One of the first steps in the GreenForge project is to retrofit this 25-year old building with conservation in mind.
“We’re planning to use green materials, install demonstration energy-saving technologies, and employ all sorts of best management practices—so that the whole site becomes an example that encourages builders throughout the county to incorporate conservation measurers in their projects,” Phillips explained.
The exact materials, technologies, and practices to be included in GreenForge are now being determined by the project team, which is made up of many of the same people who successfully transformed an 1880s-era barn into the District’s headquarters a few years ago.
A list of items includes—a 5,000 foot green roof, a 3.5 kwh solar array, a geothermal heating system, on-demand faucets and water-saving toilets, countertops and other materials made from recycled resources, including agricultural products, native landscaping and retrofitting the current asphalt parking lots with bioretention cells to manage stormwater.
The team plans to retrofit GreenForge in such a way that its operation will use less energy and have less impact on both the natural resources and man-made infrastructure than a traditional building of its size.
GreenForge also will be adapted in a way that qualifies it for Silver-level LEED Certification. The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Green Building Rating System is a national standard for high-performance, sustainable buildings. Energy Star ratings also will be important consideration in all aspects of the building’s adaptation.
All of the conservation enhancements to the GreenForge building will be documented, monitored for efficiency, and promoted to the public through the District’s education and outreach program.
The ownership/management of GreenForge is set up so that, once the building debt is retired, any income after expenses can be used to support conservation initiatives in Westmoreland County.
These initiatives could include: cleaning up abandoned deep coal mine drainage, implementing soil conservation and streambank stabilization projects, preserving farmland, building and maintaining recreation trails, protecting open space, managing stormwater, and so on.
The projected total cost of the GreenForge conservation rehabilitation project is just over $2 million. Of that, significant commitments of financial and in-kind support totaling some $560,000 have been received from The Katherine Mabis McKenna Foundation, the West Penn Power Sustainable Energy Fund, Inc., Wolf Lake Incorporated; and Glance & Associates, Inc..
The remaining $1.5 million will be raised from foundations, government agencies, businesses, and individuals.
Reprinted with permission from Landmarks, Fall 2005, published by the Westmoreland County Conservation District.