• WisBusiness

Monday, October 31, 2011

GreenBiz: Gays Mills rises from flood waters with two energy-efficient gems


By Gregg Hoffmann
GAYS MILLS - This small village has literally risen, only not from the ashes, but from the Kickapoo River floodwaters of 2007 and ‘08.

The village is about to take a major step in its “uphill” relocation effort with completion of a Mercantile building and a Community Commerce building along Highway 131, north of the original downtown. The buildings are part of a voluntary relocation plan to move homes and buildings to higher ground after two consecutive years of flooding late last decade.

Both buildings are expected to be occupied by December and January. The 15,600 square-foot Mercantile building will use solar and other energy-efficient methods to help house at least 13 business tenants.

The Community Commerce building, about 1,000 square feel smaller than the Mercantile, will house the village hall, library, community meeting area and a community kitchen, which can be used by food processors, caterers and others as an incubator for food businesses.

Combined the buildings cost more than $4 million, but a unique combination of public and private funding is handling it. Plus, indications are that investors and business people in the area are interested in becoming part of the projects.

“We are at 69 percent occupancy at this time,” said Julie Henley, recovery coordinator for the village, during a recent tour of the two buildings, which are in the last stages of construction. “We expect to be at 100 percent by this time next year."

Roof insulation is made of 10-inch structural insulated panels (SIP), which provide an insulation value of R-40. That should lead to a 50 percent savings in heating and cooling costs.

Wall insulation, using insulated concrete forms, has a factor of R-22. The building also will have a heat recovery system, use high-performance fluorescent and LED lights and have other energy efficiencies.

The Community Commerce building has roof insulation of R-38, wall insulation of R-30, a heat recovery system and other energy-efficient features. Perhaps most prominent is a geothermal system, which draws water from 16 vertical wells in the building’s parking lot, takes heat from that water and distributes it around the building using heat pumps.

“You balance users’ needs, safety, budgets with choice of materials and systems in a project like this,” said architect Jan Aslaksen of Cameron Aslaksen Architects LLC, based in Reedsburg. “It was a challenge, but I believe we reached a balance with the project.”

Aslaksen has served as the project coordinator and architect. Wieser Brothers is serving as the general contractor on the Mercantile building and Olympic Builders is serving in a similar capacity for the Community Commerce building.

Funding comes from the Economic Development Administration. FEMA, the USDA and other federal sources, as well as the Department of Commerce and other state sources. Private investment also is involved. The State Energy Office and E3 Coalition, a Viroqua-based consulting firm, also provided assistance.

“It was like making a big stew,” Henley said. “We had all these ingredients, and different funding sources. It was a big challenge to make it work. E3 was a big help as an independent consultant. We managed to bring all the ingredients together.”

Megan Levy of the State Energy Office said the Gays Mills projects are examples of what could be accomplished across the state. “There are 140 communities in the state that have pledged to reduce their energy dependence,” Levy told a gathering after the tour of the buildings. “You have done so much here in Gays Mills.”

The Crawford County Board hopes to meet in the community room of the Community Commerce Building in either December or January. Tenants in the Mercantile building should start moving in during the next few months.

Both buildings are part of a broader relocation effort. A grocery and gas station are housed in a building called The Marketplace, which recently opened just north of the Mercantile building. It too is energy efficient.

Town homes, single family homes and apartments have been built and are occupied on the hillside to the east of Highway 131.

Meanwhile, some business people and residents have opted to remain in the traditional downtown area. The village does not plan to abandon them. Some recreational trails and tourism attractions could still be developed along the Kickapoo River.

-- Hoffmann, a veteran journalist, writes the Green Biz feature monthly for WisBusiness.com.

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