| by Joseph Grove, Contributing Writer
High-efficiency refugee center seeks final partners for construction

While most news these days about refugees (and other immigrants) can be discouraging for people who have a heart to help them, a development in Clarkston, Georgia (DeKalb County), recently made an announcement that bodes well for the refugees who use it and for project managers seeking inspiration and guidance in affordable sustainability.

The Jolly Avenue Development Center (JADC), on the edge of metro Atlanta, announced that executives have recently wrapped up the fundraising portion of the project to build a virtually net-zero facility and is now on a quest for partners to provide componentry and other assets to help complete the high-efficiency construction.

Groundbreaking recently took place, and completion is expected in 2020.

JADC is an outreach of Friends of Refugees (FoR), whose mission is “to empower refugees through opportunities that provide for their well-being, education and employment.” The concept behind it stems from a desire to provide a fixed, high-quality space, delivering “critical opportunities for success.” The site of the intended building is adjacent to FoR’s existing Jolly Avenue Gardens, which forms a critical part of the new site.

Brian Bollinger, executive director for FoR since 2013, says the group “is on the ground and running” with JADC, having completed their $4.2 million capital campaign, $3.9 of which is allotted for the hard cost of construction.

The next major phase is to be “eyes-up” for subcontractors and other partners “who want to be a part of the story of welcoming immigrants through sustainable environments.”

The story is of special interest to this site because of the example Bollinger and his team are making of their inclusion of high-efficiency building practices and affordable strategies.

Even before it occurred to Bollinger that FoR needed to go all-in on sustainability, they had begun talks with a corporate sponsor (and local employer of refugees through their Refugee Career Hub program). The employer manufactured solar panels, and during a visit to the proposed site, an executive told him that in order for the company to participate with charitable dollars, it would expect the project to be a green building.

Bollinger recalls, “That was when we really realized it was time ‘for something completely different’, as Monty Python would say.”

In time, his research would lead him to dramatically recast their approach to building and funding the JADC.

He observed that the advances in environmental design and construction had reached a critical point in the market where they can offer a solution to a fundamental challenge for non-profits and, he would argue, the entire institutional and educational sector: “There is now no real reason for a capital facility to be anything other than a net-revenue positive asset, if it is built in an environmentally progressive manner,” he said.

“As the Passive House Institute of the United States (PHIUS) and others in the extreme performance building sector have shown, only in the last decade have costs for building this way come to be viably on par with building in a traditional manner. At its most basic level, you can now trade building envelope cost increases for such dramatic mechanical system size decreases that near-net-zero energy can be an up-front ‘wash’ when a building is over 6,000 square feet,” Bollinger shared in an interview earlier in the capital campaign.

Since then, Bollinger said he has been very pleased with the path of fundraising, as funders recognize the possibilities this perspective represents at scale. Among the grants they requested, many were awarded in amounts higher than FoR expected, and some even exceeded the amount asked for in the application.

Now, he says, “Our final area of need is to ensure we have a build-team of the subcontractors and materials sponsors who represent this new horizon in construction. There are many companies willing to offer us a non-profit discount, or even at-cost work, to be a respected employer in this highly-prized refugee workforce community, or to be vanguard names in green building. But we’re eyes-up for those who see the value of not only sponsoring a system or trade, but warranting and completing their solution, just like they would for the best paying contracts in this hot market. This project will be well worth their investment of time, talent and treasure.”

That worth is predicated on the ample access the facility will provide to sponsors to use it as a showcase for their work as part of a leading-edge building, as well as the ongoing workforce access to the more than 8,000 New Americans it will be able to empower every year.

Needs include:

  • Complete a full commercial kitchen so that refugee entrepreneurs can benefit from a business incubation program and FoR’s sustainable nutrition curriculums. “We’re going to build the framework for the kitchen, but we don’t have the funds or a sponsor for it yet,” Bollinger said.
  • A naming/material sponsor of the Mass Timber construction. This approach will not only improve the center’s ability to provide a more daylight-rich, pleasing environment, it will enable FoR to more affordably—and sustainably—reconfigure the center to meet evolving needs. This will reduce the need for new construction materials, save energy in the construction process and drastically cut waste to landfills. This sponsor can even join the refugee community and volunteers in the process of assembling the nail-laminated timbers, thanks to the innovative efforts of the structural engineering firm to curtail labor costs without sacrificing quality control.
  • High-performing door, window and access systems that will pass the intense blower-door and other efficiency tests the site will undergo to ensure its high-performance systems can deliver utility savings and indoor air quality.
  • A concrete sponsor for the foundation, sidewalk and parking systems who is ready to show how “green” systems can be among the simplest and even traditional approaches.
  • Water systemssponsor. Bollinger says the civil site design for the land is to return it to that of a fully-forested state: “Its ability to receive and infiltrate storm water and rain resources will be the same as if it were undisturbed land, that no one had ever touched. We’re doing that for no significant cost premium, and providing for all our community gardeners’ water needs in perpetuity. And the rainwater aqueduct is going to beautiful!”
  • Mechanical systems and envelope sponsor. This is the single biggest game changer for buildings in terms of energy use and longevity, as Bollinger explains, “drying and then heating and cooling a commercial building, but with a system 70-80% smaller than average, shocks the industry; but it is the key result of all an air tight envelope makes possible.” Because of this innovation, donors to nonprofits like FoR will see more of their dollars go to impacts and change in the world, rather than utility bills and capital upkeep.

Finally, he said, he hopes to partner with subcontractors keen to grow their reliable labor force through this unique immigrant community, by sponsoring trades like carpentry, plumbing and sheetrock.

He points out that such partners will be contributing to something that will prove a model to other projects inside and outside of the non-profit world. Organizers of Greenbuild, the national conference of the USGBC, held in Atlanta in November, will bring busloads of attendees to the JADC site to show them the pioneering work being done in high-efficiency building and comprehensive social sustainability.

The overall mood of the ground-braking event was one of great excitement, Bollinger said, as he witnessed "such a community driven, inclusive and sustainable effort really gaining momentum."

Several partners sent messages afterwards iterating their hopeful and hope-filled sentiments for the possibilities that the new space will represent for refugees and other newcomers to bring the full force of their intelligence, ability and ambition to bear on our community, he said.

More than 150 guests enjoyed touring the on-site community gardens, meeting refugee community members served by or serving with FoR, and tasting recipes prepared by refugee women who recently published a cookbook Embracing Everyday Cooking in partnership with FoR's healthy birth program, Embrace. The actual groundbreaking featured large, traditional "maddock hoes," which are prized by the refugee gardeners for their ability to turn over a cubit of soil in a single swing. The line of participants included FoR's founder, Miss Pat Maddox, aka "The Mother Teresa of Clarkston," and founding members of the community garden, including Mary Lin from Burma, in addition to construction and donor partners. 

Other attendees included local government leaders including Commissioner Steve Bradshaw, Clarkston Mayor Ted Terry and DeKalb County CEO Michael Thurman (who spoke at the event). Also on hand were sponsors and company leadership from Winter Construction, Geheber Lewis Architecture, Eckardt Electric, Newcomb and Boyd, SK Collaborative, Aulick Engineering, Francisco Tree Service, Tillerman LLC, Kaizen Collaborative, Seven Oaks Partners, Sustainable Design Collaborative Atlanta (SDCA) and Southface. 

To learn more about JADC and how to join its mission as a business or an individual, email Brian Bollinger FoR’s executive director, at [email protected] or JADC’s project manager, Brian O’Neil, at [email protected]. Additionally, visit the organization's website.


JADC will benefit the entire neighborhood, but with more than 100 ethnicities within a few minutes’ walk of the site, it predominantly serves refugees resettled in the USA from areas of the world where they have endured abject poverty, religious or political persecution, violence and war. Friends of Refugees believes that intelligence, ability and ambition are evenly distributed throughout humanity, but the opportunity to deploy those things for success is not. And that is something we can change as friends.

Through several years of community research, the JADC’s uses have been carefully designed not to replicate existing resources in the surrounding neighborhoods. The Center will focus on emphasizing economic uplift, opportunity, innovation and well-being for residents in and around Clarkston through FoR’s programs. Surrounded by multi-family residences, the Center provides walkable access for over 10,000 individuals seeking well-being, education and employment assistance. As requested by the community, the JADC will provide expanded space for FoR programs, providing the capacity to serve over 8,000 individuals annually.

Topics: Building Owners and Managers, Construction Firms, Educational Buildings, Energy Saving Products, Engineering Firms, Hardscaping / Pavers / Other, Healthy & Comfortable Buildings, Lumber / Structured Panels / Engineered Wood Products, Office Buildings, Technology, USGBC

Sponsored Links:

Latest Content

Find Us On:


Get the latest news & insights