GREENSBURG, KAN.—This town could have been a memory after May 4, 2007, when a tornado blew through the streets, knocking down just about every wall and killing 11.
The community was demolished by the twister, leaving some to wonder if the final curtain had fallen on Greensburg, a town that had been seeing its population of 1,500 shrink little by little each year.
Amid the ruins, others saw a fresh start and began pushing the idea of turning Greensburg green. The efforts have been documented in Greensburg, a series for the Discovery network.
“This town, just knowing that we had a blank slate to rebuild from, understood that there was a tremendous potential benefit of doing this as a model,” says Daniel Wallach, executive director of Greensburg GreenTown, the nonprofit that has emerged to coordinate the overall efforts.
A big step in the town's green revolution is Prairie Pointe Townhomes, a 16-unit affordable housing development that recently earned a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design platinum certification from the U.S. Green Building Council.
It is the first platinum project of its kind in Kansas and only the third low-income housing tax credit (LIHTC) complex in the nation to receive the honor, according to the Kansas Housing Resources Corp. (KHRC), which helped finance the project.
One of the first developments completed since the tornado, Prairie Pointe is built on land donated by the Greensburg School District. The prominent site used to be occupied by the local high school.
Looking at the new housing, one wouldn't know that it is a platinum-certified project, says developer Jay Manske of Manske & Associates in Wichita, noting that there are no solar panels or any other obvious signs of green technology.
However, the project is extremely efficient. The green features include low-flow showerheads and faucets that reduce water usage on average by 20 percent, walls with blown-in cellulose insulation, and high energy-efficient air source heat pumps.
Manske estimates that the green features added about 8 percent to the development costs but notes that it's tough to calculate. The costs of building in remote Greensburg have been a bit elevated because local contractors are busy, and there is no place for out-of-town workers to stay.
Manske had to overcome other challenges as well, including determining the demand for affordable housing in the aftermath of the tornado.
“There was a lot of uncertainty,” says Fred Bentley, director of rental housing at KHRC. “People didn't know what they were going to do. It was almost a chicken-or-egg thing. You've got to know what's going to happen in the community before you can determine if you can stay there.”
To get a sense of the need, a direct-mail campaign was launched, asking residents if they planned to come back. If so, did they plan to rebuild or rent? The team received enough response to show there was a demand. A neighboring project will provide market-rate apartments.
KHRC provided a $286,000 deferred loan and reserved LIHTCs to the development, which raised about $1.76 million in equity from the Kansas Equity Fund. The Federal Home Loan Bank provided $112,000 from its Affordable Housing Program through First National Bank of Hutchinson, which also provided a $170,000 loan.
Prairie Pointe was completed in July 2008, and it has been fully leased since the early fall to serve seniors and families earning no more than 60 percent of the area median income. Greensburg has come home.