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Sustainable Sites

Two projects in Shelby County vie for eco-friendly certification.



For years, energy-efficient builders have shown off their green construction projects with Leadership & Energy in Environmental Design (LEED) certification. Now landscape designers can do the same with a new certification program for sustainable outdoor projects.

Two Shelby County landscape developments have qualified as pilot projects for the Sustainable Sites Initiative. The Woodland Discovery Playground at Shelby Farms Park and Habitat for Hope's Barn Raising Project on Locke Cuba Road in Millington are among 162 international projects being considered for certification.

The Sustainable Sites Initiative (also known as SITES) promotes green land development. The group will be rating pilot projects on the sustainability of construction, land design, and maintenance.

"The purpose of the pilots is to test out the ratings system as a guideline that we've put together for Sustainable Sites. We want to make sure we achieve what we want the ratings system to achieve," said Nancy Somerville, CEO of the American Society of Landscape Architects, the group behind the Sustainable Sites Initiative.

The Woodland Discovery Playground, which opened April 8th, offers an ample amount of eco-friendly amenities, said Shelby Farms Park Conservancy spokesperson Jen Andrews.

"The entire playground is designed to be an environmentally friendly site from the way water drains, to the materials used, to the rehabilitation of a section of forest," Andrews said. "There are educational components built into the playground that help kids learn about their natural environment and ways they can be green."

Much of the playground's surface is made of recycled sneakers, and the treehouse area has a floor composed of recycled Army boots.

Blue and red chairs positioned throughout the site are made of recycled plastic bottles, and the wood used in benches and playground equipment is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council. Trees planted around the park's winding arbor are native to the area.

"We wanted to create a place that's educational, fun, and environmentally sustainable," Andrews said.

The playground's design was influenced by kids during an all-day workshop, at which they were told to draw "what the greatest playground in the world would look like," according to Andrews.

Mark Horrocks, founder of the nonprofit Habitat for Hope, said their 48-acre Barn Raising Project will include multiple cottages and a cabin to house families that have traveled to the Mid-South seeking treatment for children with life-threatening illnesses.

The project, which should be completed by 2014, will also include a village center, a lodge, hiking trails, an equestrian center, and a chapel.

The idea was inspired by the significance of barns in rural areas during the 18th and 19th centuries.

"When a new family moved into a small town, they noticed the most important structure to build was the barn," said Tucker Davis, Habitat for Hope's director of property development. "The community would come together and contribute time and labor to help the family build it."

Tucker said the barn project will preserve much of the site's vegetation, cultivate native plants, and contain penetrable pavement throughout the site. They'll also try to save as many trees as possible.

SITES certification doesn't come easy. The Shelby Farms Park Conservancy and Habitat for Hope must meet certain guidelines.

"Very much like LEED, Sustainable Sites is a very rigorous system, so each project has to prove the prerequisites or the credits that are part of the sites. There's some extensive documentation they have to submit," Somerville said.

Horrocks hopes the two Mid-South SITES pilot projects will encourage other local landscape designers to go green.

Said Horrocks: "Our hope is that we will be leading the way in providing new eco-sustainable buildings and development practices in the Mid-South."

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