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A Touch of Green for Des Moines’ Sherman Hill

November 3, 2011 - 4:47pm

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This 1930s grocery store is currently under renovation by the Green & Main initiative. When complete in Spring 2012, the previously abandoned building will be LEED Platinum certified and feature a green roof and 54 original windows retrofitted to achieve high energy efficiency standards. | Photo courtesy of Green & Main.

This 1930s grocery store is currently under renovation by the Green & Main initiative. When complete in Spring 2012, the previously abandoned building will be LEED Platinum certified and feature a green roof and 54 original windows retrofitted to achieve high energy efficiency standards. | Photo courtesy of Green & Main.

For 30 years, a two-story brick building tucked among the ornate Victorian homes was a grocery store serving the Sherman Hill neighborhood in Des Moines, Iowa. When the shop’s doors closed for the last time in the 1970s, the structure housed several tenants on the second floor and a business at street level.

The place sat unoccupied and in disrepair until Green & Main, an initiative with strong local support and a goal of developing sustainable communities, breathed new life into the corner building as the pilot project to transform the entire district with funds from the Iowa Office of Energy Independence and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The project’s developer, Indigo Dawn, intends to renovate the structure into a mixed-use facility with LEED Platinum certification  – a prestigious badge of energy efficiency and sustainable building practices.

Though, how exactly do you modify a historic structure with 21st century energy efficiency technology and not harm its historic feel? Both aspects of the project complicate things for a developer, so Indigo Dawn partnered with sustainable and historic renovation specialists on the project. All the energy efficient renovations are being meticulously documented in a best practices manual to help sustainably develop similar projects in the Des Moines area.

Components like windows are particularly important to experts. In many residential and commercial spaces, a renovator would merely replace existing windows with ones that seal the building from the elements more effectively. However, the external shell also provides a lot of the character intended to be preserved during a renovation. This is why the building’s 54 original windows, including the two big storefront windows, are being retrofitted to meet historic preservation standards and energy efficiency goals.

Other aspects of the renovation are entirely unique. In October, the store received a green roof. Increasing in popularity across the nation, green roof construction practices involve planting greenery in shallow soil spread over a waterproof membrane. The soil and plants absorb rainwater, insulate the building and reduce noise pollution.

The plants grow from the soil and function like a sponge, absorbing water that would normally run off and be wasted. The Green & Main pilot project incorporates over 50 varieties of sedum, a hardy ground-cover plant with a shallow root system, also known for its ability to drain well and control erosion. The green roof also incorporates a few decorative deciduous plants and some are even edible.

As is common in all green roofs, and not just older buildings, developers reinforced the roof structure with steel beams as a precaution to withstand the weight of the soil and Iowa’s yearly snowfall.

The project will be completed in Spring 2012. Upon completion, the ground floor will be available for commercial use and the second floor will be used as residential space. Serving as a template for other Des Moines buildings, it’ll also be 75 percent more energy efficient than the “code minimum,” consume much less water than a standard home, produce 15 percent of the building’s energy from on-site renewable energy.

Developers received an award from the Energy Department’s State Energy Program.  The State Energy Program provides grants to states and directs funding to state energy offices from technology programs in the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.  States use these grants to address their energy priorities and to adopt emerging renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies.  The State Energy Program is distributing $3.1 billion of funding to states and U.S. territories under the 2009 Recovery Act.

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