Merry Lea’s Green Buildings

Rieth Villageby Jennifer Schrock

“Doesn’t that cost a mint?� a visitor asks as he eyes a ground source heat pump unit and the plumbing that brings recycled rainwater to the toilets in Rieth Village, a three-building academic complex at Merry Lea Environmental Learning Center of Goshen College which was completed in the spring of 2006.

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"Do you mean up-front or over the long haul?" Luke Gascho, executive director of Merry Lea queries. Gascho is an advocate of full-cost accounting and challenges his guests to consider not only the cost to construct a building but also the expected lifetime of its materials and the expense required to maintain heating, lighting and cooling. Often these factors alone can justify a "green" expenditure, without even considering the benefits to the environment that are more difficult to quantify.

Rieth Village, located just south of Wolf Lake, Ind., was designed using the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design ( LEED ) standards and aims to earn a platinum LEED rating. Although the three cottages were built to house undergraduate students studying natural history and agroecology, they have received a steady stream of older visitors who are curious about sustainable building.

Gascho estimates he has done over 40 building tours since Rieth Village was dedicated in April 2006. These include 30 guests from the Nature Conservancy, considering their own green building; a group from a manufacturing firm with plants in Kendallville and Fort Wayne, Ind.; the board of the local power company;professional groups of architects;engineers and landscape architects;and a variety of church groups. Gascho is also frequently invited to speak at other locations on his experiences with designing and constructing a green facility.

The most recent opportunity to tour Rieth Village was a public program on Saturday, Nov.18, intended for people considering their own building projects. Gascho began by introducing the group of 25gueststo Sarah Susanka’s book, "The Not-So-Big House." Deciding how much square footage you really need determines how green your building can be, Gascho said, because a larger building requires more materials and more energy.

According to Gascho, a ground source heat pump is one feature a person building a brand new home should consider. This heating and cooling unit is more expensive than a gas furnace; it requires drilling boreholes 200-feet deep so that pipes filled with glycol can exchange heat with the ground. However, since the ground has a constant temperature, the system runs much more efficiently than an air source heat pump, and the extra cost can be recovered in three to five years.

White aluminum roofs are another feature of Rieth Village that enables its buildings to beat the ASHRE standards for heating and cooling efficiency by 6 percent. The white coating on the roofs reflects summer heat, reducing the cooling load on the buildings.

Gascho admits the roof cost three times what an asphalt roof would have cost, but it is also projected to last three times longer. "A hundred years from now, this aluminum roof can be recycled. The three asphalt roofs in between would end up in the landfill," he said. In the case of Rieth Village, metal roofs are also a better surface for collect

"Which of these features would you omit if this were a house?" a homeowner inquired.

"Don't even think about renewable energy unless you’ve already created an efficient building," Gascho replied. His presentation mentioned Merry Lea’s 10K wind generator and its photovoltaic cells, but Gascho is quick to stress that it is less expensive to save energy than to generate it. Using studs six inches deep to create more room for insulation may not be as exciting as a wind generator. Including roof overhangs and triple glazed windows that keep summer sun from penetrating a building are not as noticeable as photovoltaic cells. Yet these are critical first steps that enable Rieth Village to produce as much energy as it currently consumes.

Although Gascho is passionate about green building, he insists that there is no one cookie-cutter way of doing it, with the same right and wrong answers for everybody. He sees earth-friendly building as an integrated process that requires careful planning and the involvement of the homeowner. "You have to ask, 'If I pick this material and it costs more, what will it do for me?'" Gascho said.

Some of the group that visited Merry Lea Nov. 18 had already been working on making their homes more energy efficient. Scott Litwiller of Goshen, Ind., says he realized a 40 percentsavings on his utility bill this past summer by replacing single pane windows with double pane windows and getting rid of an inefficient washing machine. Steve Schantz, also of Goshen, was interested in Rieth Village’s use of solar hot water, since he too, has installed solar hot water panels on his roof.

Other attenders came to glean ideas for future homes. Ken Lukas of Syracuse, Ind., is hoping to build a home that keeps low maintenance costs in mind. Richard Miller, executive director for Habitat for Humanity of Elkhart County, Inc., plans to bring other Habitat directors to Rieth Village in order to coordinate efforts, including sustainable building strategies.

Merry Lea.s staff members will continue to share their buildings. unique features with visitors. The next public tour of Rieth Village is scheduled for Saturday, Feb.17, 2007, from 9 to 11:30 a.m. and will focus on energy consumption.

Merry Lea Environmental Learning Center is a 1,150-acre nature center located in central Noble County and owned and operated by Goshen College. This natural sanctuary for northern Indiana.s plants and animals provides environmental education for people of all ages and a setting to recreate opportunities that benefit the human body and spirit without exploiting the land. Merry Lea was created with the assistance of the Nature Conservancy and the generosity of Lee A. and Mary Jane Rieth. Visit the Merry Lea site for more information and directions.

About Goshen College

Goshen College, established in 1894, is a four-year residential Christian liberal arts college rooted in the Anabaptist-Mennonite tradition. The college’s Christ-centered core values – passionate learning, global citizenship, compassionate peacemaking and servant-leadership – prepare students as leaders for the church and world. Recognized for its unique Study-Service Term program, Goshen has earned citations of excellence in Barron’s Best Buys in Education, "Colleges of Distinction," "Making a Difference College Guide" and U.S.News & World Report’s "America’s Best Colleges" edition, which named Goshen a "least debt college" Visit www.goshen.edu.

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