Monday, April 18, 2011

Green, Greener, Greensburg - Part I

I remember a long ago field trip to the Big Well in Greensburg. Back when I was growing up, that's what Greensburg was known for. Billboards outside Pratt said, "Visit the World's Largest Hand-Dug Well."

During a school field trip, we did just that. We descended the 105 steps into the Big Well, tossed a few pennies in the well and then marched back up.

On May 4, 2007, an EF5 tornado ripped through the town of Greensburg and changed it forever. The Big Well was something that the tornado couldn't take away from the town's identity, though the landmarks around the site were swept away.

A photo from 2005 from the Big Well website

Currently, the well is full of debris from the tornado, but there are plans to clean it out and build a new gift shop and museum. For now, the new modern water tower replaced the old metal tower I remember as a child.

So far, they've left a bent flag pole in place and left the stone border (compare it to the 2005 photo.) Resurrecting this site where more than 3 million people have visited since 1888 is on the to-do list. But in four years, it's amazing how many of the "to-dos" have been crossed off.

Nobody would ever believe that a natural disaster that caused death and destruction is a good thing. But it has given Greensburg a unique opportunity.

"(The tornado) forced people to make change. It forced people to say, 'You know what we have is an opportunity unlike any other community gets. To change the way we are going. To reverse the trend. To not lose the kids, but to bring our kids back. To invest back in the community so that after they graduate they can have new jobs and new opportunities.’ "

Former Greensburg City Administrator Steve Hewitt

During this week of Easter, a time when we celebrate resurrection and rebirth, I'd like to give you an outsider's glimpse of Greensburg. I was there two weeks ago with six others from my PEO group. I guess you never outgrow field trips!

In one day, I certainly didn't see all I'd like to see. But the progress is truly amazing. Here are just a few of the highlights. I'll be showing you more in this 3-part series from Greensburg.

Kiowa County Commons

This facility isn't yet open, but I took the photo from the top of the nearby Silo-Eco Home. The building will contain the Kiowa County Library, the Historical Museum, the Kansas State Extension Service and a Community Media Center, which will house an internet radio station, an internet TV station and a web portal capable of delivering news and events throughout the county. A sentimental feature of the Commons will be the inclusion of a reconstructed version of the soda fountain visited by many at Hunter Drug before the tornado. The building is projected to be Platinum LEED certified, the highest certification in "green" building.


Greensburg's Downtown

The only downtown building that stood on the morning of May 5, 2007, was this red brick building. As the city began to rebuild, city planners left that building in place, tying it in with the new storefronts to the north and across the street.

In the foreground, you can see a sign for cans. Members of the community are collecting cans in an effort to rebuild The Twilight Theater, a 400-seat auditorium that will be used for both the community and Kiowa County Schools. They are, of course, doing other fundraisers and seeking grants for the project.

Here's the streetscape in downtown Greensburg. In the far background, you can see the grain elevator, one of the only structures that survived the tornado's fury. Greensburg's first model eco-home is patterned after the grain elevator, with a rounded living space and 6-inch thick concrete walls.

We went into Greensburg's City Hall. One of the ladies wanted to see the pallasite meteorite, which she remembered seeing as a kid during a trip to the Big Well. (She thought it would be bigger: We reminded her that's how most childhood memories end up.) The 1,000-pound Space Wanderer meteorite is on display at the City Hall until the new Big Well Museum can be built.

Business Incubator

Just south of the intersection of U.S. Highway 54 and Main Street, the Sun Chips Business Incubator gives new and returning businesses a place for a jump start. Some of the businesses featured in the linked brochure, which began in the incubator, have now moved on to their own storefronts. The Green Bean, where we ate lunch, and Studio 54, are now in their own buildings across Main Street. So the business incubator is accomplishing what it was designed to do.

A middle school student led our tour of the new Kiowa County Schools, which opened in time for this year's school year. The $52 million school is filled with "green" features.

One of the things that is most striking is all the natural light that pours into the facility.

They collect rainwater and it eventually ends up in storage tanks, where it's used for watering the grounds, etc.

Here's a link to a student-produced video at Kiowa County Schools that features an interview with Superintendent Darin Headrick, and shows more than I can with still photos.

Interview with Superintendent Darin Headrick from kcmavericks on Vimeo.

Tomorrow ... more from Greensburg.

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