‘Greater than the sum of its parts’

New Brattleboro Food Co-op building wins award

BRATTLEBORO — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has given the Cooperative Building a gold star.

The EPA has awarded the building, which houses the Brattleboro Food Co-op and Canal & Main Apartments, with the agency's 2012 National Award for Smart Growth Achievement.

The building and its three owners, the Brattleboro Food Co-op, Windham & Windsor Housing Trust, and Housing Vermont, located in Burlington, won in the category of Main Street and Corridor Revitalization.

“There were many potential reasons why this innovative collaboration might not have worked so successfully,” said Nancy Owens, Housing Vermont's president. “But the shared vision that we could create something that was much more than the sum of its parts kept us going.”

The award recognizes projects that take innovative steps to protect human health and the environment, build sustainable communities, and contribute to vital downtowns.

The Cooperative Building is one of seven national winners out of 47 applicants from 25 states.

According to a press release from Housing Vermont, the winning entries “were chosen based on their effectiveness in creating sustainable communities; fostering equitable development among public, private, and nonprofit stakeholders; and serving as national models for environmentally and economically sustainable development.”

Windham & Windsor Housing Trust executive director Connie Snow said the collaborative project “spoke directly” to the trust's mission of “revitalizing a downtown site for an important local business, restoring a historic streetscape, and creating attractive and affordable housing opportunities for citizens close to jobs, shopping and services.”

These ingredients boil down to a vital downtown, said Snow.

The trust owns and runs 24 mixed-income apartments on the top two floors of the four-story building. Reclaimed heat from the Co-op's refrigeration units provides the apartments' heat and hot water.

According to Snow, the 24 units were leased within eight weeks, demonstrating the need for affordable housing and people's desire to live downtown.

“This has been a wonderful partnership,” said Snow who attributes the project's success to teamwork.

Sabine Rhyne, shareholder and community relations manager for the Co-op, echoed Snow's sentiment.

The project was “symmetrical with our values” of sustainable energy and a smaller community acting together to help enrich the larger community. The project also allowed the Co-op to break ground on the store's existing site rather than developing new land.

“[The project] answered multiple needs for the downtown,” Rhyne said.

Rhyne said that the Co-op has worked hard over the past year to finish the construction project while keeping the store open.

She said the Co-op serves as a downtown grocery store and helps support people in the area, especially those without cars.

“[The award] was a really nice shot in the arm when we were just working like dogs,” she said.

Describing working with Housing Vermont and Windham & Windsor Housing Trust, Rhyne said, “The beauty of a partnership is when you're having a rough time the other partner buoys you up.”

Despite the challenges Brattleboro has faced in the past few years, the downtown has held together, said Rhyne.

Although the Co-op has received criticism from some community members who say the new building is too industrial and commercial looking, Snow said that space like the Cooperative Building brings vitality to downtown because it draws people.

Lights are on, people are walking, shopping, visiting, eating, and engaging with their neighbors, she said.

Gossens Bachman Architects, of Montpelier, designed the building.

The building's slate siding was manufactured in Vermont. According to Rhyne and Snow, using slate meant the general contractor, Baybutt Construction Corp. of Keene, N.H., did not puncture the building's thermal envelope as much than if the project incorporated brick siding.

The building's intensive green roof structure filters rainwater through plantings and a rain garden before it reaches the Whetstone Brook, which runs next to the Co-op's parking lot.

Maple flooring on the third floor was harvested and donated by the Vermont Land Trust. Outside, the building has solar panels for power and inside uses low emission paints, glues, solvents, and panels constructed from agricultural sorghum waste.

The award's criteria reflected why the three partners initially wanted to take on the project, said Snow.

The Vermont Housing and Conservation Board, which funded a portion of the project, nominated the Cooperative Building for the award, said Snow.

The EPA's Office of Sustainable Communities manages the awards program. The organizations are slated to receive their award at a ceremony in Washington, D.C., Dec. 5.

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