SPEARFISH — “What the city council, Spearfish Economic Development Corporation, and chamber try to do is prepare the city through zoning, job incentives and infrastructure to attract growth/development that compliments or improves the citizens’ lives,” City Administrator Joe Neeb said, explaining that there are a variety of processes that take place as the city grows.

Jeremy Smith, an advocate of ag-land preservation and Smart Growth, a movement that encourages communities to grow up instead of out, preserve farm and ranch land, revitalize central downtown areas to keep people in town, and create public transportation systems and “complete streets,” designed not just for automobile transportation, but for transportation of all kinds for all ages, is a partner at Cycle Farm on Evans Lane and would like to see more community-wide climate change awareness in city planning.

“I think we have to take stronger steps as a community to have a town that’s really rewarding to live in even in as little as 20 years,” Smith said. “I think we should focus on the growing of the community aspect of the city,” considering how to make it a more enjoyable town to live in, how to reduce stresses and increase the quality of life, and through that, economic growth.

Smith thinks the rec path is a good step and would like to see it used more as a transportation network.

The city maintains approximately 7.5 miles of rec path that goes through Spearfish, and the parks department is responsible for 1,258 acres. Of these, 135 acres are mowed and maintained in the parks, cemetery, campground, and sports complex, with the rest of the acreage in the “wildland parks” category.

Smith would also like to see more long-term thought in building design, considering long-term energy input and costs. For example, where one places a house or trees on a lot affects the amount of sunlight it receives, which could in turn allow for passive-solar energy systems, reducing the impact on the environment and energy costs, he said. Smith and Jenkins researched building design before building a greenhouse designed as a passive solar structure. Its north wall is straw bale and cob; the straw bales provide insulation, while the approximately 6 inches of cob serve as thermal mass. Cycle Farm also has a wind turbine, being in the county; the city council plans to renew discussions this year about the possibility of wind energy systems within industrial districts in city limits.

Smith would like to see more energy-efficient design required or encouraged in the area. One example is the student union at Black Hills State University, built to the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Silver Standard. LEED certified buildings are built with sustainable design and construction to save money and resources, have a positive impact on the health of the occupants, and promote renewable energy. Points for the certification are based on the following categories: sustainable sites, water efficiency, energy/atmosphere, materials/resources, indoor environmental quality and innovative design.

Tom Paisley, Spearfish’s building official, said that he hasn’t seen any trend toward “green” building in construction in the area, citing higher upfront costs.

“No, it is too cost-prohibitive,” he said. “We have not seen a lot of ‘green’ design in Spearfish.”

The city has adopted Chapter 11 of the International Residential Code that deals with energy efficiency.

“It requires more insulation R values (resistance to heat flow through a given thickness of material, creating more effective insulation) in attics and walls than previous editions of the code. It also deals with energy efficient appliances and U-Factors for window (the lower the U-Factor, the better its insulating properties).”

The International Code Council has also published the International Energy Conservation Code and the International Green Construction Code, both of which have not been adopted by the city of Spearfish.

Those in the design business are seeing trends in the profession toward sustainable design.

“Not only has our practice seen a newfound interest in sustainable, energy efficient, green design/construction, but we have also worked hard prior to this newfound interest to create buildings that perform well, use appropriate materials and are energy efficient,” Steve Williams of Williams & Associates Architecture, Inc., said.

Jason Roberdeau, the project architect for the BHSU student union, and Andy Fett, are both LEED-certified professionals in the Williams & Associates office. Roberdeau said that in addition to the student union, the new science building is also LEED certified, as is the newest residence hall currently being constructed on campus, but those are the only buildings in Spearfish he is aware of having the certification.

“LEED certification is just one of several rating systems out there, and the state of South Dakota requires all new state projects to meet a sustainability threshold unless certain exceptions exist,” he said, adding that a building doesn’t necessarily have to have a certification to be “green” or sustainable. He said that people are definitely talking about sustainability in building design more, and some request that the project be sustainable but not necessarily for the certifications.  

“The changes associated with ‘green’ building aren’t as drastic as one might think. A lot of time we do the same things anyway,” Roberdeau said. Examples include deciding to not build on prime farm land or on undeveloped land, instead deciding to build in already-developed areas saving infrastructure, water sheds, closer distances to amenities and therefore less energy use for access, etc., in the sustainable site category; specifying low flow plumbing fixtures or capturing rain water for lawn irrigation in the category of water efficiency; or using locally-sourced materials to support local economy and limit energy needed for transportation and using recycled materials in the category of materials/resources.

Roberdeau said that cost can come in to play when considering sustainable design, but the emphasis is on long-term savings. The upfront costs might be more, so the long-term savings need to exist in the form of costs, productivity and environmental impact.

“A tighter, more insulated building might cost more today, but with rising energy costs, it can pay itself back over time,” he said. “Also, it’s likely over time that the building code will have an energy code associated with it that will make energy-efficient design/ construction to a measurable standard a requirement similar to what the state has already done.”

Though there are occasional incentives at the federal level for owners or end users of the buildings, the designers, developers, and construction trades are not affected by them.

“Most of the time when people ask about it they ask because they are concerned about long-terms costs over short-term, or out of overall environmental stewardship,” Roberdau said. “It happens in both small ways, such as which window should I buy for my house that gives me the most energy efficiency or which product should I put on the outside that will last the longest, to big ways in terms of whole buildings being built and certified to some standard.”

And overall, he said that sustainable design and construction are generally agreed on.

“Most people agree that saving money long term and using less energy and protecting our natural resources and creating more healthy living environments is a good thing,” Roberdau said. “The execution of these principles isn’t as difficult as you might think, but it does take effort in terms of education, understanding and carrying through with some core principles.”

See tomorrow’s Pioneer for the next installment of the series.

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