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Eco in practice

Architect Doug Thornton’s office building in Hernando itself represents a recycling project: It was built in the 1950s by the Baptist Association.

Old wood was put in a chipper for landscaping or given to farmers for animal shelters. All the old fixtures, appliances, plumbing, doors and windows were donated to Habitat for Humanity. Much of the original brick was left on; recycled copper is used for a countertop.

The building is insulated with soy-based spray foam and the sound batts are made from recycled jeans. All interior paint is 98 percent light-reflective; there are bamboo and cork floors. There’s a “sunlight chimney” to admit light and ventilation, and the exit signs use no electricity.

Thornton says the design reduces energy use by 20 to 25 percent as tracked by kilowatt usage, even after adding some 400 square feet, doubling employees and using 10 times the electronics of the earlier tenant.

The office was a “test balloon” for LEED design, he said, adding: “We wanted to see if all the hype was true. Now, I’ve become a believer.”

The Southern Bancorp building will further testify, starting outside with site-design elements including “pervious paving” to cut rain runoff.

Within, each office will have its own heat and air-conditioning controls to better manage energy use.

Lighting — “one of the biggest energy hogs” — will be low wattage, “less than half that of the typical office.” Light adjusts for the amount coming from outside, uses occupancy sensors — so if no one is in an area, the lights go off — and “cast lighting” to put illumination where it needs to be.

And there’s to be lots of recycled and “sustainable-growth” material, such as the wood framing, Thornton said.

Architect Doug Thornton redesigned his Hernando office into an environmentally friendly building. Near the center of the building is a decorative light chimney with vents that allow natural ventilation.

The office he has occupied at 342 West Valley for two years achieved the Leadership

in Energy and Environmental Design “Gold” designation from the U.S. Green Building Council — Hernando’s first and one of only two across Mississippi. (The other is for a building-supply store in Philadelphia.)

Now, Thornton has designed what he hopes to be the second LEED structure in town: the Southern Bancorp building to rise soon at 970 Byhalia Road near McIngvale in east Hernando.

“This design is desirable because it’s energy-efficient and it’s meant to accommodate all the latest in green technology,” said city Planning Director Bob Barber, a booster of such design.

For Thornton, who owns Architectural & Engineering Resources for (Green) Construction, his interest in eco-friendly design is multipronged.

First, there’s economic benefits, he said. Green-oriented technologies and materials have been available “off the shelf” for some time and are not prohibitive, with long-term benefits and energy savings that more than make up for any higher up-front costs.

Second, there’s value in containing the “throwaway” mentality of today’s culture: “The way we’ve been going is not sustainable; we’ve been exceedingly wasteful of the resources God gave us on the Earth,” he said.

Third, there’s simply greater occupational health and comfort involved. The designs incorporate materials that don’t release toxins, and elements that people know “intuitively” are desirable, such as more natural light and openness. There’s also increased productivity in environs deemed more comfortable, Thornton said.

Construction on the bank is expected to begin in about two weeks, with completion in 10 months.

Application for LEED “Certified” status will follow design to construction to actual occupation and will be a “one- to two-year process,” he said.

R. Alan Sims, Southern Bancorp’s DeSoto County president, said the Hernando project signifies the bank’s commitment to expand operations — and environmental horizons — to meet the needs of customers and staff.

Southern, which currently has loan-production offices in Hernando and Southaven, serves more than 80,000 customers through 45 branches in rural communities from northeastern Arkansas to the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

“We’re excited about it,” Sims said. “It’s hopefully going to be a pace-setter for others buildings around the county.”

The building, he said, also fits into a unique corporate structure at Southern Bancorp that has a nonprofit side and a banking side. The firm was founded in the 1980s as a vehicle for rural development, and “we’ve always been environmentally friendly,” Sims said.

Earlier this year, Southern — the nation’s largest rural development bank — received an $11 million investment from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation to enhance Southern’s efforts to revitalize underserved areas and help achieve its goal of cutting poverty and joblessness in the Mississippi Delta region.

At 6,000 square feet, the bank is smaller than most LEED projects, Thornton said; his architectural and engineering office was even more cozy, at 3,000 square feet.

“But you don’t have to be a major project to be responsible,” he said.

Going green even spreads to how AERC’s staff get around: “We have two company vehicles and both are hybrid Ford Fusions,” Thornton said. “If we’re going to talk it on the environment, we’re going to walk it.”