Green Building moves to Durango
City explores options for healthy and efficient local construction

A pile of building materials sits in the parking lot at the RiverGate building site. The Durango City Council
passed a resolution in February endorsing Green Building, which can be characterized by techniques that
are healthy, energy efficient and have limited environmental impact./Photo by Todd Newcomer.

As development continues to boom throughout La Plata County, a related movement is also picking up momentum. “Green Building” has appeared and is gaining strength locally, and the City of Durango is currently exploring ways of fostering environmentally conscious construction in the future.

Green Building calls for residential and commercial construction that meets the needs of the present population without harming the abilities of future generations to meet their needs. Generally, it can be characterized by structures that are healthy, energy efficient and have limited environmental impact. Green Building came to Colorado in 1995 with the creation of Built Green Colorado, a voluntary program that has become one of the largest in the nation. Now, Green Building is beginning to seep into the Durango area.

Michelle Reott is the principle owner of Earthly Ideas LLC, a Durango-based sustainable design and construction consulting firm. While Earthly Ideas has been in business for the last 11 years, Reott only moved the firm from Austin, Texas, to Durango three years ago. She said she has seen a marked evolution toward Green Building locally in that time.

“There’s beginning to be a trend of interest,” she said. “Three years ago when I came here and said sustainable or Green Building, people didn’t know what I meant.”

Todd Swanson, president of the Southwest Natural Builders Guild, commented: “I think the information age has blown the doors wide open. I think a lot of people are waking up.”

And the wake up call is not necessarily a pleasant one, according to Swanson. “We are beginning to feel the pinch of over-extraction of resources. The impacts are becoming personal.”

Exploring Green Building trends
The City of Durango and the
Durango Discovery Museum
are co-sponsoring a workshop
for local planners, builders,
suppliers and interested citizens
to explore Green Building
trends throughout the nation.
On Friday, April 23, Brian
Dunbar, of the Institute for the
Built Environment, will present
an overview of federal, state
and local Green Building initiatives.
The workshop also
will focus on how Southwest
Colorado stakeholders can
prepare for potential new
Green Building standards. The
workshop runs from 8:30
a.m.-4:30 p.m. at the Fort
Lewis College Life Center. For
more information or to register
call 259-9234.

However, Swanson and Reott agreed that Green Building can be an answer to these impacts. Reott cited benefits including reduced maintenance and operation costs, reduced natural resource consumption, enhancement of the local economy, improved air and water quality, and reduced need for landfill space.

“We all need to acknowledge it and own up to our responsibility,” Swanson added. “It’s a question of how we take that first step.”

The Durango City Council took its first step in February of this year when it passed a resolution endorsing Green Building. On the one hand, the resolution4 called for the greening of all future city construction. On the other, it kicked off a push to spread Green Building standards throughout the city.

“I think that our City Council is inclined to move in this direction,” said City Planner Greg Hoch. “They basically gave staff the nudge to pursue this direction.”

Keith Walzak, senior planner, added, “Basically the council has opened the door and more or less, they’ve given us a mandate to explore Green Building for Durango.”

The exploration will begin with the formation of a task force. Walzak said that the question of Green Building standards will be put to a diverse team of locals in coming months.

“Green Building is definitely the wave of the future, and it’s already being done in communities like Boulder and Telluride,” he said. “But we also have to ask what are some of the pitfalls and where do we go from here. One of the best ways I know of doing that is reaching out to the community.”

Walzak is in the process of putting together a team of staff members, builders, Realtors, consultants, conservationists and members of the public. He said that they will be asking, “What is the Green Building program for Durango and how do we implement new standards?”

Reott commented that much of the work for a local Green Building program has already been done in other communities. “I don’t think we need to reinvent the wheel here in Durango,” she said. “Let’s look at established programs and established checklists that are available elsewhere in the state.”

As the task force takes form, a concrete use of the Green Building approach is going forward with the Southern Ute Indian Tribe’s Three Springs development in Grandview. The tribe has proposed 2,283 new homes around an expanded Mercy Medical Center immediately east of Durango. In addition to the widely publicized Traditional Neighborhood Design of the development, the tribe is currently exploring Green Building options.

“While the whole Traditional Neighborhood Design concept is great, I had suggested that they look beyond and develop some sustainability components,” Walzak said. “They’ve been great to work with and they’re really open to it.”

Walzak said that he and the tribe are considering sustainable construction approaches for the individual buildings, the community as a whole and any civic buildings that might be located within the development.

A crew working on the Santa Rita Townhomes, on the south end of East Third Avenue, helps unload building
materials Tuesday morning. The City of Durango is putting together a task force to explore Green Bulding standards./Photo by Todd Newcomer.

Another current move toward Green Building in Durango is with the Children’s Museum’s effort to renovate the historic power plant into a Discovery Museum. Jama Kolosick, executive director of the museum, said that as the renovation moves forward every effort will be made to meet or set high standards for energy efficiency and environmental stewardship.

“Our core principle at the Children’s Museum is that we advocate for children,” she said. “Construction practices that serve this generation without compromising future generations works toward that goal. Sustainable construction and sustainable development are very important parts of what we believe.”

And like Swanson, Kolosick said that some people have woken up and others are still viewing Green Building with suspicion. In this respect, she noted that the Discovery Museum will work to educate adults as well as children. “I see an educational gap between those who are ready for Green Building and those who are stuck in traditions,” she said. “I’m looking at it as an educational issue. The movement is coming here.”

And its arrival promises to be beneficial, according to Walzak. “The more you get familiar with it, the more you realize that these techniques are viable,” he concluded. “If we can just get this up and running and successful, I think it could be great for Durango.”






News Index Second Index Opinion Index Classifieds Index Contact Index