In the aftermath of a tornado that nearly wiped it off the map, the little Kansas town is rebuilding as an 'environmentally sustainable' community. And its farm equipment dealership is leading the way.
Above: Before a tornado destroyed it in May 2007, BTI-Greensburg (left) was a 44,000 square-foot dealership with annual revenues of $29 million. With winds of 200 mph, the tornado tossed around 18-ton combines like toys. The new 28,000 square-foot dealership (right) is scheduled to be completed in October 2008.
Number of Locations: 4
Major Line: John Deere with ag, light industrial and commercial application contracts
Shortlines: Great Plains, Landoll, Sunflower
2007 Sales: $63.7 million ($51.9 million in wholegoods, $8.4 million in parts, $1.8 million in service and $1.5 million in other)
3-Year Sales Growth: 2005 – $46.9 million; 2006 – $53.4 million; 2007 – $63.7 million
2007 Return on Assets:11.93%
2007 Parts/Service Absorption Rate: 75%
On May 5, 2007, the day after an F5 tornado leveled the town of Greensburg, Kan., the last thought on anyone's mind was rebuilding the place in an "environmentally sustainable" way. The question most people were asking themselves was whether to rebuild at all.
Kelly Estes, president of BTI-Greensburg, the John Deere dealership in town, says that thought may have crossed he and his brothers' minds for "about 5 minutes," suggesting that not rebuilding was never seriously considered. But their first efforts would be focused on the community; the fate of the dealership would come later.
Weather officials say the internal winds of the Greensburg' tornado were estimated to have been in excess of 205 mph. The storm ultimately took 14 lives in the area and destroyed 95% of the structures in the town of 1,500 people. The dealership alone suffered more than more than $20 million in damage, as 36,000-pound combines were found blocks away after the storm.
Back to Business
With both President George Bush and Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius declaring all of Kiowa County a disaster area within days after the tornado struck, the community began getting back on its feet. The disaster and the town's decision to build back 'green' have been thoroughly documented through innumerable press accounts and a 13-part documentary, 'Greensburg,' aired on the Discovery channel's Planet Green series.
Kelly's brother Mike Estes, manager of the BTI-Greensburg store, credits Governor Sebelius with hatching the idea that Greensburg should rebuild as a green community. He says President Bush picked up on it from there and 'encouraged' government agencies to provide the resources needed and local businesses to pursue the concept. The Estes brothers were among the first to climb on board Greensburg's Greentown express.
With 36 employees, BTI is one of Greensburg's largest employers. So its announcement that it would be rebuilding was a major first-step in the town's overall recovery. "It was a signal to that community that there would be jobs in Greensburg, so there was a reason to build houses," says Dave Jeffers, John Deere's manager of customer retail experience, who is helping coordinate the rebuilding of the BTI.
Within 2 weeks, the dealership erected new signage at the site where its dealership had previously stood. "We wanted to get it up fast to let people know we were coming back," says Mike Estes.
Next, they built a temporary facility at the site to provide Greensburg-area customers with parts and service. A doublewide trailer was located in front of the new structure for sales and administrative activities.
Their next announcement was that the dealership was making the commitment to build an environmentally sustainable facility to replace the one that was destroyed. This helped provide the impetus for other local businesses and the townspeople to join the effort.
"It was the support of the community that got us moving in the green direction," says Mike Estes. "When the City Council voted to follow the U.S. Green Council Standards, they set the stage for the city and county, the business and even the homes to begin to rebuild as a green community.
"So, when we looked at rebuilding the dealership, we looked at what we could do to support that effort," Mike Estes says.
Along with the promise to build back "green," the Estes brothers took the opportunity to take a longer view of the future of their business. They had also learned that the state planned to re-route Highway 54, which was the town's Main Street and where the dealership was located. Even without the re-routing, the Estes recognized their current location was landlocked, leaving no room for future expansion. That location would also severely limit their plans to develop the new facility in an ecological fashion.
As a result, they purchased a 77-acre site to the east of Greensburg. This would serve as starting point for designing and building the first green, environmentally sustainable farm equipment dealership in North America — if not the world.
A Dollar & Cents Proposition
Beyond the "feel-good" aspects of being environmentally responsible, Kelly Estes says the decision to build a green facility made long-term financial sense financially, as well. Because they were essentially starting from scratch with the store, it gave the dealers the opportunity to create a new model for equipment dealerships that would be designed for sustainability and energy efficiency, relying heavily on renewable energy.
"Being green isn't always seen as being a Midwestern, conservative value issue," says Mike Estes, "but it certainly is now because of high energy costs and what's going on in the world today. If you don't go green, you're costing yourself money. You're not paying attention to what's going on around you."
Kelly Estes says he sees energy costs rising steeply in the near term. "Power is going to go from 11cents/kW to 35 or 40 cents in short order," he says. "We either have to get ready for it or we shouldn't be surprised when it happens — because it's coming. We have the opportunity to reduce our costs by reducing our energy use. We believe it's the right thing to do for a lot of reasons."
"Knowing where to start was difficult. We knew there were costs associated with this and we had to find out how much," say Mike Estes.
"We only wanted to do what was sustainable and affordable," adds Kelly Estes. "It's like trying to sell something you don't believe in. We had to believe in this to move forward. Our goal was to build an environmentally sustainable business, but some things aren't practical and we weren't buying into a lot of the things that were being put in front of us. There are a lot of agendas out there."
Sorting through the "green" agendas may have been the most difficult job of all. To get started, both the town and the dealership turned to Berkebile Nelson Immenschuh McDowell Architects (BNIM), an architectural firm with a focus on sustainable architecture headquartered in Kansas City.
"They were doing the master plan for the town, so we hired BNIM to be our back up," say Kelly Estes. "They were key in getting John Deere to work with us and to educate all of us what LEED certification was all about. This was key in getting Deere to build a template for dealers down the road."
BTI also had the benefit of an expert from the Dept. of Commerce who "sifted through the financial side of things," Kelly Estes explains. "This was a real blessing because it allowed Mike and me to focus on the business end of what needed to be done."
LEED — Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design — is the green building rating system developed by the U.S. Green Building Council. It provides the standards for environmentally sustainable construction. To become certified as a LEED facility, the architect and building contractor must submit to an open audit procedure that assures the designers and contractors meet the organization's technical criteria for sustainable design and energy efficiency. Projects are monitored and approved by independent LEED committees.
As Mike Estes describes it, "LEED involves a lot of tracking and measurements that must be done by an outside source. It can't be done by anyone connected with the project."
The LEED ratings focus on five areas that include the site itself, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, materials and resources, and indoor environmental quality.
The goal for the new BTI-Greensburg dealership was to achieve a 38% energy savings compared to a comparable building of its size and to achieve the LEED platinum rating — the highest ranking available. The estimated annual energy savings for the dealership would amount to $25,000 or more.
To do so, design and construction of the new BTI dealership would focus on 5 strategies for improving overall energy efficiency:
Fully daylit retail and service space;
A well-insulated "envelope" design, including the bay doors;
Waste-oil boiler for heating the building;
High-efficiency VAV (variable-air volume) cooling system;
Wind turbines to provide about 10% of the total energy load.
Above: "We chose measures 1-8 in going for the LEEDS platinum rating because we didn't see enough savings by taking the next step," says Dave Jeffers, John Deere, who helped oversee construction of BTI's new dealership in Greensburg, Kan.
Building a Green Facility
The real key to constructing an environmentally sustainable facility is finding the "right" building contractor that is willing to work within the LEED guidelines, according to the Estes brothers. The key for the contractor is finding suppliers to provide the building materials and systems required to meet the energy and environmental goals of the LEEDs program.
The Estes chose the HASTCO Co. of Emporia, Kan., as the general contractor for the new project. The firm had also built the new 35,000 square-foot Deer Trail Implement dealership in Emporia, Kan., in 2006. (See "Revitalization & Redefinition: Deer Trail Implement's New Benchmark Facility, Farm Equipment, April/May 2007, p. 20-27.)
"We modeled our new place after the one in Emporia and they did a great job with it," says Kelly Estes about choosing HASTCO for the new BTI dealership.
Where the original Greensburg location had 44,000 square feet between two buildings, the new building would encompass only 28,000 square feet under one roof. "We decided up front that we would go smaller and then add on as the town and community comes back," say Kelly Estes, pointing out that the new facility has been designed to be easily expandable.
While his company had experience building other John Deere dealerships, Art Kuehler, president of HASTCO, says that the biggest challenge as the contractor on this project was the learning curve of what was required for LEED certification. Bad habits typical of most construction projects also presented a major hurdle, he says.
"What we ended up doing was dedicating two staff people to learn what had to be done in terms of documentation and tracking materials. We found we had to document every pound of material that came on to the site and every pound of material that's carried offsite," Kuehler explains. "Certification requires that 50% of everything we haul offsite had to be recycled. So, we had to keep track of what was and wasn't recycled.
Materials that typically would have been disposed of in landfills — including Styrofoam, cardboard, all metal and glass — needed to be segregated and recovered. "It was a bit of nightmare," says Kuehler.
"We had to break some bad habits. This was easily the biggest challenge we faced on this job. Most contractors would struggle with this, but it's like recycling at home. It's not so bad once you get used to it," he adds.
Pre-Planning Reduces Costs
In retrospect, Kuehler says that better pre-planning of the project could have reduced project costs significantly for the new dealership. "We were behind the eight-ball on this one because the decision to go for LEEDS was decided after initial design was set. It would have been much easier if it could have been done up front.
In terms of additional costs for construction and materials to build the new environmentally sustainable BTI-Greensburg dealership, Kuehler says they're looking at only a 4-5% compared to building the same type of structure using standard techniques and materials. But, he adds, "There's a payback for all of that, though."
While additional costs for the different materials and sub-systems might have been anticipated, the learning curve for LEED certification was where the unexpected investment crept into the project.
"The costs involved with documenting our materials and procedures for the certification process ran 5-8% higher than expected," says Kuehler.
But, he adds, that HASTCO absorbed the "learning curve costs" of the project as an investment. "Those will be reduced on the next project. If we can get LEED prototypes set, basically we'll be able to repeat them on the next job like this and avoid a lot of the paperwork it took on the BTI project. The payback for us is we learned what it takes to for LEED certification. Obviously, the next job will be more economical."
Despite these unanticipated costs, Kuehler says that the upside for his construction company is that they learned things that could help reduce costs in future projects. "Really, we did things on this job that we hadn't thought of before."
For example, HASTCO utilized recycled concrete for back paving, which Kuehler says is "a little more economical than rock."
They also used fly ash, a byproduct of local power plants, in the concrete mix, which was $3-5 less per yard than standard concrete mix. "It also gives the concrete a whiter finish, so we get more reflectivity from it. Not only did we get the recycle points, but we also hit the reflective and lighting points for the LEED certification, as well."
Powering the Project
Possibly the most unique aspect of the project is that a wind turbine was used to provide most of the energy required for the construction work taking place at the site.
"We've researched it, but we haven't found any other project where it's been documented that a dedicated wind turbine was used to supply the power needed to construct a new building," says Kuehler. This reduced the purchased energy to build the dealership by as much as 80%.
When it's up and running, BTI-Greensburg will utilize two turbines to supply nearly all of the power needed to operate the dealership.
Installing the turbines for their own use at the Greensburg dealership, also presented the Estes with another opportunity. "Through this initiative, we've started another business to sell wind turbines. It's called BTI Wind Energy Co.," says Kelly Estes.
"My brothers and I had been looking for ways to expand the business and we were focusing on things to help farmer reduce their input costs. We didn't want to sell irrigation systems or ATVs. When all of this came about, it occurred to us that wind energy goes together with the whole concept of going green."
He adds that the company making the turbines has even discussed the possibility of building a plant near the new dealership to reduce shipping costs.
Better Than It Was
Driving through the streets of Greensburg more than a year after the tornado nearly eradicated the town, the scars left are still evident, but so is the courage its taking to rebuild — when it would have been just as easy to walk away. But it goes beyond that because the townspeople and its businesses have decided to make it better than it was and perhaps set an example for the rest of country that it can be done.
"This is an amazing story," says Jeffers of John Deere. "We believe this will be the model for other farm equipment dealerships."
In fact, at least two other John Deere dealerships are watching BTI-Greensburg closely. "We're working on four projects including dealerships in Virginia and Iowa," say Kuehler.
It was absolutely essential to Greensburg's future that its dealership committed to rebuild in the town says Mayor, Bob Dixon. "People here had to know there would still be jobs. In a lot of ways, BTI is an important anchor for the town.
"As we've all become much more energy and environmentally focused, they set the example of being highly energy efficient. So it was critical that someone like BTI set that standard for other businesses and community members to follow," says Dixon.
But the Estes see something bigger happening beyond building an environmentally sustainable dealership for other dealers to model.
"We believe we're impacting more than Greensburg," says Mike Estes. "There's something about this little town being blown apart here in the Bible Belt and then rebuilding as a 'green' community.
"When you think about it," he adds, "the top conservationists and environmentalists in the world have always been American farmers. Rural Americans have always been the 'green' folks.
So if we couldn't do it out here, where was it going to happen? That's really what we see taking hold here."
Bucklin Tractor & Implement Co.
Founded in 1944 as the Bucklin Tractor & Implement in Bucklin, Kan. by the grandfather of the current owners, Kelly, Mike and Bud Estes and Letty Bachelor, BTI has grown to four store locations. The dealership first started branching out in 1996 when it acquired another a store in Greensburg, Kan. A third location in Ness City, Kan., was added in February 2007. Less than two months after the F5 tornado destroyed the Greensburg store, BTI acquired a fourth dealership in Pratt, Kan.
Unique Features Define an Environmentally Sustainable Building
Dozens of innovative construction techniques and materials have been designed into the new BTI-Greensburg dealership that could result in the facility earning a LEED platinum certification. Art Kuehler, president of HASTCO, the general contractor for the project, describes some of the most unique aspects of the building.
Building Materials. The company chose materials from local sources to reduce distance to the job site — a real challenge in the middle of Kansas, according to Art Kuehler, president of HASTCO, the general contractor on the project. A large portion of these materials were manufactured in St. Joseph, Mo. LEED requirements state that the total cost of recycled materials must be 30% or more of the total building materials cost. Recycled steel for framing, structural and cladding elements were used in the project.
The construction company purchased wood certified by the Forest Stewardship Council. Adhesives, sealants, paints, coatings, carpet systems, composite wood and agrifiber products were chosen on the bases of low VOC content.
Reflective snow-white color metal roof was installed at slope of ?:12 and reflective paving materials and landscape shading was used to achieve a "heat island" effect.
To prevent pollution during construction, HASTCO installed silt fences and planted sorghum forage for erosion control. They also built a settling pond with passive filtration and to collect rainwater that will be used to water all grasses and shrubs planted after construction is completed.
Lighting Systems: A "daylighting" system was comprised of a dozen Solatubes and nearly two dozen skylights were incorporated in the retail and service areas of the dealership. As much as 75% of the building's lighting needs will be supplied as natural light, according to Kuehler.
"The skylights are curved and insulated and tied to a sensor so as more natural light is available throughout the day, the sensors reduce the artificial light. It's much like an automatic dimmer switch. As the sun goes down and less daylight is available, the sensors will automatically increase the artificial light."
LED lighting will be used to illuminate the exterior of the building. Kuehler estimates that this will use about one-third of the power of standard exterior lighting systems. "It's a more true and direct light, unlike most standard flooding-type lighting systems. Our goal here was to not send any foot-candles past the property line. LED also reduces carbon and is often used to illuminate streets and sidewalks in cities," says Kuehler.
In-Floor Radiant Heat. The main heat source in the shop area of the dealership is radiant heat from tubing set in the concrete. Water running through the tubes, which are manufactured from recycled materials, is heated using a corn-burning furnace.
Kuehler points out that the unit can use almost any material that can be pelletized as a feedstock. "Corn cobs aren't the most economical material to burn these days," he says. "We're looking at what else we can bring in and it looks like we've found a company that'll make wood pellets for us."
The downside of in-floor heating, according to Kuehler, is that it's more time consuming to install and you need to be careful not to pierce the tubing when anchoring cabinets or other things to the floor.