Kan. town, destroyed by twister, focuses on resiliency with LEED

Kan. town, destroyed by twister, focuses on resiliency with LEED

Photo courtesy of USGBC

A decade after being flattened by an EF-5 twister, the town of Greensburg, Kan., has rebuilt itself into a high-performance community.

In fact, it has become a model for what green building can do, reports the U.S. Green Building Council.

More than just an environmentally sound choice, building green can also mean building for self-sufficiency and resiliency, qualities always embodied by residents of the plains states.

On May 4, 2007, the EF-5 tornado destroyed more than 1,300 homes in Greensburg and caused nine deaths. As the town sought to recover from the destruction, Mayor Bob Dixson focused on sustainable construction and renewable energy as a way to build the community even stronger than before.

Building stronger with LEED

Dixson's plan for Greensburg included constructing all future city-owned buildings more than 4,000 square feet to LEED platinum standards; when it passed, it was the first resolution of its kind in the United States. Now, in 2017, the LEED-certified structures in Greensburg include such diverse projects as the city hall, arts center, John Deere dealership, county hospital and K–12 school.

In addition to green buildings, Greensburg boasts a walkable downtown, a net metering policy and investment in wind turbines. The town's Sustainable Comprehensive Master Plan addresses residential density, park space, renewable energy and dozens of other aspects of sustainable city design. 

A community achievement

An early partner in Dixson's efforts to rebuild was architectural firm BNIM of Kansas City, Missouri. Having to recreate the town's design from scratch provided an unexpected opportunity for more inclusivity and community direction in transforming what Greensburg would look like.

Bob Berkebile, the project principal, commented in a BNIM article five years later, "If not for the outspoken input of the youth, the school would be an ordinary regional school located 10 miles from town on a site the school board purchased within a week of the storm. But because the next generation saw a need for change and had the desire to stand up for it, the school is now an anchor for the community sited along Main Street, both transforming education and adding vitality to the community.”

Two years earlier, Berkebile had helped USGBC navigate its response to Katrina by participating in the charrette that ultimately led to The New Orleans Principles, a guidance document for addressing post-disaster reconstruction.

Greensburg has gotten creative in planning for storm resistance. Projects like the Silo house and homes and apartments using insulated concrete forms and straw bales in the walls may have a greater chance of withstanding future tornadoes, in addition to incorporating green features.


Topics: Architectural Firms, Associations / Organizations, Building Owners and Managers, Certifications, Construction Firms, Consulting - Green & Sustainable Strategies and Solutions, Energy Saving Products, Engineering Firms, Sustainable Communities, Urban Planning and Design, USGBC

Companies: U.S. Green Building Council


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