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The integrative process of creating Rieth Village was a memorable experience for those involved in the vision, design, and construction of the project. The people featured below share their perspectives of their role in this unique and special undertaking that brought together experts in collaboration, innovation, and creativity.
"Rocky Mountain Institute facilitated a charrette to look at what would be environmental strategies for the facility. A lot of our work focused on how you integrate different systems and how you think about things as interactive or integrative design, instead of just single issues. [Being a part of the Rieth Village design process] was an intriguing experience because it was a project where there was a strong alignment from all the players, and so there was a willingness to more deeply explore some of the issues from the project.
One of the strongest memories I have from the charrette was just being out on the land, and spending time on the site with everyone. It was a beautiful place."
"I was hired by MKM at the time to work on the mechanical, electrical and plumbing (MEP) systems design: heating and cooling, electricity, pipes, plumbing, bathrooms, and kitchen.
I believe in sustainability and green design. In addition to being a good thing to do, green design is also becoming increasingly more necessary because it is about sustainability, in every sense of the word. Not only in doing less ecological damage, but also in just making the business venture more viable and cheaper to run. Case in point: with the stressed economic times right now, many could benefit from not paying the costs of maintaining a conventional building.
Being a part of the Rieth Village project has influenced both my personal and professional life. I think with most people who like what they do, and see a purpose in it, the two intertwine. This project showed me that it is doable, by anyone who is interested. You don’t have to be a national expert to design a project like this. Luke Gascho had the vision to develop and use the local economy as part of his vision, which in turn lead him to choose Mike McKay, a local architect. This kind of thinking affected people around him and made them think that this is doable by anybody, anywhere, if you want to. It is empowering thought and realization. It was also done relatively early-- a lot of people are doing LEED buildings now, but at the time, it was one of the few platinum certified buildings in the world. Since the project, there has been a lot of dissemination now about sustainable design, but it was rather early at that point to say hey, we’re doing something special here.
I loved the four hour drive to Merry Lea during this project. It was a beautiful piece of ground, and everyone I met associated with the project was intelligent, caring, open-minded, and really wanted to be there. There were no grand, superstar egos, which I found incredibly refreshing. Everyone wanted to sit and discuss our work, and find the best answer to any question. I always came back from the integrative design meetings feeling refreshed, like I’d been a part of something good.
For a project like this, you need a champion. Luke searched the state of the art for what it was then, and took all the necessary steps to make Rieth Village a model for other facilities around the country. He used a very solid level of common sense, which permeated the whole process. One time we were discussing what purpose the HVAC system should serve, and we were engaged in a rather complicated conversation about system control logic. Luke interrupted and suggested that the vision of Rieth Village didn’t include a complicated control center. This was a surprise to the engineers. Back then, engineering committees didn’t like operable windows, for example, because when people open them you can’t control the system. Luke suggested that people in the community would be encouraged to use common sense and consider their role in the building’s processes. It was this underlying use of common sense which made Rieth Village a cutting edge, professional project."
Marcus de la Fleur
de la Fleur
"I was the project manager for Conservation Design Forum on the Rieth Village project and managed the site design aspects and design coordination with the client and project team. I lead the visioning and development of the infiltration-based stormwater management system, and managed the LEED certification for the various site and stormwater credits.
I like to think that my belief in responsible use of resources had a positive influence (such as the stack log fencing around the vegetable areas). The other item that should have influenced the process is the principle of a decentralized and infiltration based stormwater management system, compared to the conventional centralized and discharge based systems. The principle of dual or multiple functionality is another aspect, where, for instance, the decentralized stormwater system becomes part of the site design - the site amenities.
Having had the positive experience of the integrated design process, and the subsequent product quality, brought home how important it is to grow beyond ones personal expertise, to think out of the box, and to keep strong communication among the project team. These days I feel more comfortable to step into architectural or mechanical discussions when, for instance, it comes to moisture management in buildings, which may be influence by the surrounding landscape. I also came face to face with some processes that are difficult to reconcile, such as what the stormwater model tells me will happen, anticipating what really would happen, and finding the save and reasonable middle way. This is an item I have focused on ever since and led me to search for anecdotal evidence on the performance of various sustainable stormwater systems. I always understood that the green building approach is an important one to pursue. But what the RV project cemented is that I am, or I should be part of that approach, not just my clients. I can't just talk the talk, I need to walk the walk, which I have done since and which has been and is a lot of fun.
I remember the exceptional leadership and engagement that was provided by the client, and also the various design meetings and workshops where the project team met at Merry Lea."
Merry Lea Executive Director
One of the roles I played in the vision of Rieth Village project was as facilitator of that vision. It would be incorrect to imply that it was my vision, because it grew out of the work and thinking of the Merry Lea staff. In a sense, my facilitating role was to help the vision of all of us become a reality. People who look from the outside can sometimes do a quick summation and conclude that Rieth Village is my vision, but I am uncomfortable with that. I recognize the importance of my role, but for me to garner that all by myself would do injustice to everyone else.
In addition to facilitating the conversations within the staff, collecting their ideas, and then trying to put flesh and realism onto that, I also collected examples of how other people have done these types of projects, whether it was the curricular components behind why it was seen as a need, or green building pieces.
In the four years from 1998-2002, I did some intentional visiting of places, which was a way of connecting good information from other sources with the ideas that were already generated by the staff at Merry Lea. That put me in touch with people in various settings around the country, which helped place Merry Lea in the context of a larger movement. Personally, having had that experience and now having the knowledge base is what helps me articulate reasons, directions and hopes for the collegiate facility.
My role during the design would have been building a good relationship with MKM and the other design team members. The relationships we built were genuine; if I were to see Mike, Ric, Marcus or Jonathan now I’m sure we would still greet each other with a hug and be happy to see each other. So part of my role was building relationships with individual players, but also helping to facilitate the articulate the expectations of working together in a group. That is where the real synergy and energy of what we’ve done came from.
In a practical sense, I attended every design meeting, from the preliminary renderings of a collegiate facility, to the RMI work, to then the actual design processes that followed in late 2001 and for the next couple of years. In terms of a role with construction, I would have been with all of the construction team meetings, and on site reviews with the architects and engineers who were interacting with contractors and subcontractors on small and big decisions that needed to be made.
I was also the photographer, recording what was going on, which has ended up being very valuable, both for story telling, and also in periodically understanding how something is functioning or not functioning in the buildings.
An aspect of my personal philosophy on green and sustainable design that influenced this project was a combination of practicality and aesthetics. When I talk about our “design statement,” and the “rugged elegance” concept, it is actually quite meaningful to me. Bringing together the understanding that this is a field station, but that it should also embody an aesthetic through design and function that feels good to people who live there or visit is important. It needs to be attractive to them, but we were not interested in opulence.
Sometimes I hear students say “wow, if this had been around when I was in college, I would have bee here.” I think this happens partly because Rieth Village is of higher quality than many field stations, which are typically made of mobile homes pulled together. The organic feel of the interior design and the external concepts make people feel like it fits, in both the landscape, and the purpose of the programs that occur there. The practicality and aesthetic aspects are then combined with good use of resources, which includes both materials and design concepts, that people brought to bear. Good stewardship was critical.
Another philosophy I am interested in is using technology appropriately, without of false reliance on technology. For example, it would have been ok to have ended up with programmable thermostats controlling the temperature in the buildings as the highest form of technology, but was good that we were able to add the energy production components as well, with the wind, solar, and water heating.
Another philosophy piece is that a project like this simply shows that we can do it. We can do this. My personally philosophy is very much based on a do it yourself attitude.
In terms of my career, Rieth Village is one of the pieces that has added a level of credibility to the work done at Merry Lea. Achieving of excellence in the building has brought to people’s attention what is capable of being accomplished here, and being a part of that has been great. This is also an energizing component for me as a leader, to work towards quality and overcome challenges.
In the midst of working on the design of Rieth Village, I recognized congruence with a number of things I believe, but had not yet pulled together in my mind. Initially, the idea of doing a green building was simply the right thing to do, but then delving deeper into why it is the right thing to do assured and affirmed that we weren’t doing this just to be a part of the green movement. Being a part of this movement is fine, but it’s not enough. Understanding the philosophical and faith belief systems that underlie environmental stewardship has been energizing for me. Experiences I learned from that process influenced how I spoke about the project, and lead to engagement with several organizations beyond Merry Lea. I also became involved in leadership within the Mennonite Creating Care Network, and was asked to write a book about creation care. That opened doors for speaking and connection, and lead to other organization connections that allow our story to be a place for people to be engaged and to think about how we approach these big environmental issues in realistic and also hopeful ways.
A memory I really enjoy is the story of the Rudy, the Amish framer, and the cistern. Sometimes when you are working on a project like this you can get very highfalutin, and this story was a great reminder that we weren’t doing anything new, we were just doing the right thing.
It began by my typical stopping by the site a few times a day, checking in and chatting with the contractors. On this day, I was talking with the framers who were working on Pewamo and Washtenaw. Sub-contractors often wondered about the specialness of the project, and asked questions about the purpose of some features and design. That day the excavator was digging the hole for the cistern, and Rudy asked me something about it. I told him the cistern would be about 15,000 gallons and be used for the toilets and the washing machines. He said “do you think that’s going to be big enough to meet the needs of the buildings?” And I said to him “Well, in working with our engineers and designers, we have calculated the amount of rainfall that will fall on the roof annually, we have done a calculation on the number of flushes of toilets that might occur, and loads of laundry over the course of the year, and considered the ebb and flow of water. Then we considered what would be a reasonably-sized tank, not too big because you don’t want to hold water for the whole year, or one that is too small for a drought. I went through this whole explanation about all of these fancy calculations we’d done, but I should have just asked him was “why do you ask?” It seemed a question of curiosity, but the question also implied that he knew something. He said “well, we have a cistern at home, and it’s only 5,000 gallons, but there are only 7 people in my house and we’ve never run out of water. We also have a small solar panel that charges a battery that runs our pump, and we’ve never run out of electricity for the pump.” This struck me as funny because we did all this fancy design work, and we could have just asked the Amish framer to tell us about the system and gone from there. In his mind, he was scaling up from his family in one house, to three buildings with people living in them, so by his standards, he wondered if 15000 would be big enough. It was a legitimate question.
Another story came after five years of very intensive work, from 2001-2006, during which we were focusing on fairly lofty goals and working hard at achieving them. After these five years, in 2007 we were finally going through the scrutiny and reviewing process of the LEED rating system, and watching points be earned and not earned one at a time online. At some point I thought– we’ve done all the right things, will we ever get there? Finally, at the end of 2007, I was at the learning center on New Year’s Eve, and no one else was in the office, and the number finally hit platinum on the online recording system. The only person I could get a hold of was Mike, who had also gotten this official message that we had been awarded platinum, and who was also in the office. That was a great phone conversation- we were two people who had invested a lot in making this happen, and it was an important moment. I also recall the plaque presentation ceremony, and the accounts that Mike and Holly gave of the impact of being involved in this project. It was special for me to hear (from those two people in particular) of the overarching meta-experience and specialness of this work, and especially that it carried a spiritual dimension. This was something we’d never talked about separately-- but then both of these people were articulating a message of spirituality in their speeches, which was exciting.
One very difficult day in the life of this experience was Earth Day of 2004, April 22. It was on that day that I learned in a meeting that there would be no additional fundraising efforts from the college to achieve the full project. That was very disappointing. By this point we had invested 3+ years of planning, promoting, speaking, and then suddenly it was ground to a stop. What do you do at a juncture like this? I remember parking at the far end of the site and walking the trail up to the building site, which wasn’t even fully cleared at that point. I walked through this abandoned farm field space, with a bit of self-pity, trying to figure out why this was happening. This was such a good thing to do, and now we couldn’t go anywhere with it. I called my wife on my cell phone, which is not something I usually do in the middle of the day, needing a sympathetic ear. Still down, I came back to the office at the learning center to learn that Carol, a close friend and staff member at Merry Lea, was having to go unexpectedly with her husband to Ft. Wayne because of the need to deliver their daughter, Alta– and so I left to be with them and spend a number of hours with them there. It was just so good to be with them, knowing the difficulties they were facing at the time – and suddenly Rieth Village was nothing. That evening I came back to Goshen, went home, went to supper, with all of these things running through my head, and that night on the back of the placemat at El Camino Real in Goshen, I sketched out an idea for how we could build Rieth Village in phases, which would make the project a reality. The next day I called Mike and talked about phasing. I called Alan Chalifoux with a couple of engineering questions. I called Michael Ogden to talk about wastewater treatment. I literally drew the line right down the middle of the project and we were back moving again.
Hamilton Hunter Builders, Inc.
Hamilton Hunter Builders, Inc. came in to the process after design had occurred. We w ere involved in some value-engineering prior to construction, but primary role was construction. I functioned as the Project Manager.
I really had basically no experience with Green Build/LEED designed projects prior to Rieth Village. In reality, once the design is in place, the key is following the design and engineering pretty exact. There were many aspects of this project that intrigued me. I have a great appreciation for nature. So, that appreciation coupled with the respect I had for Luke's vision and the entire design teams' decisions, laid a clear path that no decision was made without careful thought. So, in essence, I "bought in" on the goal. I considered myself personally accountable for holding true to the specifications. If VOC levels were a concern with certain products and the product information wasn't readily available, I searched until I found it. Because of this project, my personal philosophy on sustainability as changed. I certainly became much more educated on products that were available that would be considered much more environmental and/or people-friendly.
I have a great appreciation for the LEED certification process. I believe until you've actually gone through a certification, you cannot appreciate what goes into that. It has also given me more opportunities to be considered for other LEED designed projects. Personally it has reinforced the active role we need to take as individuals to be thoughtful in our decisions. And I can't speak enough to the team members that I was able to work with. Open communication and problem-resolving went on throughout the process. I will always carry a special affinity with me for the entire experience.
One memory that stands out from the project was the Ground Healing ceremony. I've attended many "ground breakings" before, but Luke really set the tone of this project in that ceremony. Merry Lea is such a gem for our region. Rieth Village fits nicely into that community. To this day, I enjoy being there. One of my favorite areas is the space between Pewamo and Washtenaw looking out over the cleansing biotope.
Morrison Kattman Menze, Inc
I was the architect of record for the project, and partner-in-charge, supported by Ric Norwalk, who was our project architect and manager. There were several members of our practice who participated in the charrette and integrative design meetings, as well. The charrette was a great opportunity for all involved, because we were engaged with many sustainable design concepts in an integrative method, which invited discussion to develop solutions that were new to many of us, and our fields. The setting enabled us to learn together as we went through the process.
It was an interesting time to be developing a project like this. I had worked on prior projects that had included elements of sustainable design, as had my colleagues, but Rieth Village was the first project when all of these elements were put together and we were encouraged to think about integrating sustainable practices into every aspect of the project. Since Rieth Village, our practice has more strongly encouraged clients to think about green design and sustainable elements of construction.
One could say Rieth Village grew up with the U.S. Green Building Council as well. While we were in design, LEED had just come out with its first certification system, version 1.0. Initially we were not sure if we would pursue LEED certification, but later the entire team decided to go for it. By the time we were done with design and ready for construction, LEED had already been through another two versions, and we ended up submitting and certifying under version 2.1.
Working on the Rieth Village project was a milestone for my professional career; through the process I became a LEED Accredited Professional (LEED AP), and at the time I was the only LEED AP in the firm. Now, over half of our staff in the practice are LEED AP's, and we have several clients and projects pursuing LEED certification.
I remember the first day I met Luke; he walked in off the street in search of an architect interested in sustainable design, and we sat and talked that afternoon about sustainable design and green construction and the vision he had for Rieth Village. Visiting the site for the first time was also memorable, because I'd come from another meeting wearing a suit and tie - I went through a pair of shoes and slacks that day as Luke took me on a wonderful hike around the grounds of Merry Lea.
AIA, LEED AP
Morrison Kattman Menze, Inc.
I was brought on board as design support to George Morrison & Mike McKay after the Rocky Mountain Institute’s programming charrette. My contribution was primarily with materials research & building design development. I served as MKM’s managing ‘project architect’ & shored up the design team’s foray into the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED-Platinum territory.
I resonated with the sense of stewardship at the heart of Merry Lea’s mission. My architectural thesis effort back at Ball State touched on an ecological seminary theme—so my participation in the planning for Rieth Village, connecting so many environmental issues & ideals to a real-world facility was naturally compelling.
Being part of MKM’s ‘green dept’ & helping to realize the first phase of Luke’s long range plan has provided a complete casebook on sustainable design. Along with Luke’s consideration of the planning process, team dynamics, contractor buy-in, Merry Lea’s website document--all of it remains a meaningful resource and measure.
The design development meetings at the Barn were memorable—the potential of the program on all fronts—architecture, engineering & construction--was immediately engaging. Walking the property with Luke, Bill & Dave. The need for sensitivity to the Farmstead, and the aim for “rugged elegance” was a unique challenge. Integrating the LEED standard as it was still emerging, the “Ground Healing” ceremony, Luke’s sermon at the dedication comes to mind as well. Simply too many to track!
Former consultant with Rocky Mountain Institute
Currently at Atelier Ten
I’m from the Midwest originally, I grew up in Ohio, so I was very personally interested in the project. Our role at Rocky Mountain Institute was setting up the sustainable design charrette. We brought in a team of experts from a variety of experts from to come in with the current design team and think through the project in the direct brainstorming fashion. It was a two-day, very intensive process, and we were able to get through a lot of material. We lead off with a few initial presentations, had a site visit, and then went into break-out groups. From there, we went into specific areas of design and talked about what was important for the overall vision. You could call us “green cheerleaders,” in that we got the process kicked off, got the players in place, and got the report out. That was the end of our involvement at the time, and then we handed off the initial ideas to a very strong design team to take over.
Design charettes are great, but exhausting, and exciting because you can get through so many of the issues in new ways. This process is better than just handing off projects to different people, as is done in regular projects. These projects don’t result in the same kind of big picture thinking you do when we open up all topics at a charrette. You get the sense in a meeting like this that green design is not just for the sake of chasing a LEED rating, but instead about taking environmentally friendly actions, reducing loads, and taking a comprehensive approach.
I still see a lot of the same folks at various conventions or other projects, even though I am working in New York City now. It’s not a small network anymore, but I can still remember the faces from the photo we took of the whole design team. It was one of the more fun and memorable charettes I’ve been a part of. In my work today I am still using a lot of the same principles and thought processes of breakout discussions we used in the charrette. A lot of what I do now is educational as well as design-oriented, and meant to create high-quality projects, while motivating and exciting people about what forethought can do for the environment.
A memory that stands out from my time there was that we had the opportunity to meet ahead of time some of the Merry Lea trustees to get a sense of what was really driving them, and what were the underlying principles of the vision. I also remember going to an Amish together-- having meals together really leant a sense of team effort to the whole process. It is definitely a project I have fond memories of, and it’s great to see it up and running and being used for what it was designed for.
John Todd Ecological Design
Wastewater Systems Engineer
Very early on in the process, my father John joined the charrette and started talking about developing an ecological wastewater treatment system, and integrating that into a hydrological cycle. After the initial charrette, I started working with Luke and MKM to phase the wastewater treatment system into the project. I also worked on the planning to reduce the energy footprint of what will ultimately be the entire project (including phase 2, which will have an eco-machine inside of that). From there, we passed the engineering work on to Natural Systems International.
This project took place relatively early in LEED history. It was back when we were having to look at our own electrical footprint for the first time. Historically, our wastewater treatment systems had used too much aeration, because we were under EPA scrutiny and regulators, and this project caused us to really look at our energy design. It was also great to work with Natural Systems International and Michael Ogden, who deserves a lot of credit for the work done in that project. I am looking forward to being a part of the final phase of Rieth Village in the future. Merry Lea is a very visionary place.
Working in this field has informed me of the energy around the earth’s water, the carbon footprint of our food cycle, and has definitely influenced my thinking about our designs. Instead of looking at nutrients as a liability, we look at them as an asset – especially in terms of phosphorous – which used to cause problems. Mismanaged fertilizers and wastewater are causing a giant dead zone in the gulf. We are working on making the biological uptake of phosphorous more sophisticated. Right now we are using plants, or other media, to clean the water, and then we grind it up as biological matter and use it as fertilizer. Working on a project like Rieth Village wasn’t so much about informing myself, but helping me see the direction we should be going.
Working on the Rieth Village project was one of several events in my career that caused me to look at how sustainable our designs were, and to see the steps to making them more sustainable. It was one of the more dynamic and cooperative charettes that I have been to. There wasn’t a log of ego – there was a lot of cooperation and good focus. It was what a charrette should me. Sometimes we go to a bad charette and you wonder if it isn’t a waste of time. We really were working together for a better design.
When Conservation Design Forum (CDF) works with clients, we want to make sure we change how they handle rainwater. Our goal is to receive the rain as a resource where it falls, nurture it there, and then deliver only clean, cool, clear water to the surrounding lakes and rivers. To do this, we design roofs and landscapes and all interfaces to receive the rain, and prevent it from going to a sewer or a pipe. When you pipe water away, you have lost the opportunity for beauty. The philosophy that influenced our work on Rieth Village includes the idea that water is a precious resource, not a waste product. Once you accept that as an idea, it changes your entire philosophy of engineering. Most contemporary engineering is designed to collect water and convey it away, leaving the place where it fell bereft of water, and the place where it’s going overflowing with dirty water. Luke and the team at Merry Lea fell right in line with this idea early on in the design process.
The story of Rieth Village is less about me and CDF, and more about the wonderful group of people who worked with Merry Lea to put the entire project together, including Mike McKay, and the Todds. We were able to move away from egos and focus our energy. All jobs of that quality help you grow, help you use your skills in new and different ways, and bring you in touch with new people. It was pretty thrilling. The experience is difficult to quantify, but being part of a group like that was inspiring and affirming.
To make a sustainable design project work, you need a committed sponsor. One of the key elements of Rieth Village was a committed sponsor. They find good people to work together, hold the project to the highest standards, and truly believe in what they are doing. Someone like Luke doesn’t come around everyday. We also had an uncommon architect in Mike McKay. In a project like this, egos can really get in the way of everything, and Mike and the architecture team were able to sublimate their egos and work together to create that wonderful project all the way through. The level of expertise that was aggregated together was also uncommon. There were no weak links—everyone was highly skilled in their field. Another uncommon element to this project is the fact that it was of and about young people. There is no sustainability unless our young people are brought to understand it and carry it forward. We can have clever buildings, but there is nothing sustainable about it if the next generation isn’t hitched to the idea, and if there is no pedagogy attached.
Conservation Design Forum
We first got involved after some initial programming had been done in sustainability workshop lead by RMI and Bill Browning. We were brought in as one of several practitioners to envision what could be integrated into the plan. Then, following that (which established visions and direction), we were asked to be part of the design team to provide landscape architecture, eco-restoration, and water/stormwater design.
I think that the idea of having a setting that immerses people into an authentic, healthy landscape and environment, which I think RV does, and the having those characteristics expressed in the built elements, the buildings, and infrastructure, and having them all work together to promote a healthy ecology, is one of the best examples we can set. It is important to provide sheltered spaces with renewable resources, and at the same time supporting healthy hydrology rather than being a negative impact. In addition, a portion of the site had been disturbed, so we were restoring health and stability to that part of the site.
The Rieth Village project was one of our early forays into a truly integrated design process, where we looked at water in a variety of ways. When we looked at harvesting and reuse, and then the wastewater system that returns the water as a viable, healthy resource, not just dumping it in the ground, and how those systems can benefit by being thought about in a very integrated way. Also, working with Luke was a great experience-- I learned a lot from him. I learned the importance of characterizing the project in a way that would meet the objectives of Luke, the students that participated, and others that were involved. It was interesting to see the perspectives and attitudes of the team, the college, and also the legacy of the Lee & Mary Jane, expressed in the plan. Every aspect of the project was integrated – it wasn’t just adding green strategy to a conventional plan. And also, the notion of long-term and maintenance and operations, and the idea that in order to get the approval of the college, 150% of the construction costs needed to be identified to establish long-term endowment so they know that there were plans in place to care for it.
I certainly remember and enjoyed both the interaction with the folks there, with Luke and Marcus, a well as just being on the property and learning about the entire site. I hadn’t spent any time in that part of Indiana before, so getting to see that was a memorable part of the experience.
Merry Lea Faculty
My role in the Rieth Village project was to participate in the charrettes. I also played a role in making decisions about mechanical details in the building, like what to use for vents, open vs closed loop ground source heat pump, the type of heating system, electronics, operability of systems, wireless availability, and whether or not to put the parking lot at Rieth Village or at Kesling.
Until the point when we had the RMI (Rocky Mountain Institute) charrette, my idea of green was recycling. During the charrette, we started talking special windows and reconstructed flooring, and I didn’t have a clue these sorts of things were even out there. I had heard of some of these things, but making it a reality at Rieth Village was another story. RMI was full of ideas and gave us great direction.
I think that we have yet to use Rieth Village to its fullest potential. We still have more work to do to draw others in and give them the opportunity to see the details in we did. On a practical note, I have also learned that for our purposes, wind generation isn’t as useful as solar. Solar is awesome--I’d put solar on my house.
Being a part of the Rieth Village project has been a great learning experience. After the construction was finished, maintaining a green building also takes time and long-term thinking. For example, we have had to learn how to best use the operable windows, and we had to add a grinder pump to the cistern to ensure that we had enough pressure below to fill the tanks. It was all new, and no one could have predicted these sorts of issues before construction was completed. As with anything new, these problems are not discouraging; we just go with the flow and make changes here and there until everything is working.
I have also learned that to make change, you have to begin somewhere. Right now, the state mandates that all of our wastewater goes to the municipal sewer. Although the water that comes out of our constructed wetland is clean enough to be emptied into the pond, we still have to send it to the sewer system. In order for policy makers to recognize that this sort of technology is possible, someone has to build it, monitor it, test it, and share this information with the state so they will understand that it does in fact work. Someone has to take the first steps in this direction, and that’s what we did.
Dr. Dale Hess
Collegiate Program Director and Associate Professor of Agroecology
I arrived here at a time when Rieth Village was finished, so the role I played was in the vision and the design of the greenhouse, which was built and completed in 2009.
I think I am very much aware of aspects of conservation because I was born and grew up in Africa, and worked professionally there, where people work with what’s available, and work conservatively. This is something I like about my work at Merry Lea, because this is typically not what you see in American society. Working with conservation in mind very much what influences my work here, and I think that of my colleagues as well.
Working at Rieth Village has brought me to a point I thought about in the past: as an undergraduate, my favorite professors were individuals who worked professionally in their area of specialization, and then returned to teaching. Having worked as a plant pathologist and now coming back to work and address sustainability issues with students at Goshen has been splendid. Another nice aspect of working here is the opportunity to stay in touch with local farmers and entrepreneurs, which is an excellent way for students to meet individuals living and working to maintain a sustainable lifestyle.
Dr. Dave Miller
Program Director Emeritus, Biology Department Chair
As the Rieth Village project was first conceived, I participated with Luke and others at Merry Lea in brainstorming/visioning sessions regarding where to build the collegiate studies facility and what should be included in it. As things began to take shape and we actually began to work on design, I was on the design team.
Actually my personal philosophy on these issues developed concurrently with the planning. I have always been interested in building and in building responsibly, so I was happy to be part of a project that looked seriously at the impacts of resource use and of long term energy consumption.
For my personal life it has helped to increase my awareness of the consumption of resources and has cause me to look for things that I can do in my own sphere to live more sustainably.
A great benefit of working at RV has been that it enables me to talk with more integrity regarding environmental issues. It has helped to bring consistency between theory and practice in a very real way.
Director of Land Management
I participated in part of the initial discussions related to determining the need for an additional facility that realized the vision of Merry Lea’s founders, and served its mission. I also participated in site selection process and the design charrette. During the construction process, I served as a representative of Merry Lea on the design team that oversaw the planning and construction. I also worked with the design consultants and contractors on storm water management design, waste water treatment, landscape design and building siding. I also marked the trees, negotiated their purchase, supervised their harvest and arranged for their processing into boards for the building siding. I also designed and installed the vegetative landscape elements (currently completing establishment of last native planting element)
Personally, I am interest in the design and implementation of natural/biological features/elements that interface seamlessly with the human-built environment, as well a low-maintenance landscapes. Professionally, I was able to become connected with a network of individuals who have experience in many different aspects of "green-building.”
One memory that stands out from the Rieth Village design process was visiting "green landscaping" projects in Chicago area accompanied by our project architects and site design consultants.
Jennifer Halteman Schrock
Coordinator of Public Programs
I was hired part-time to write grants for Rieth Village in 2002. I researched potential funding sources and pursued promising possibilities. The following organizations were among those who donated to Rieth Village: the Spencer Foundation, the Martin Foundation, NiSource Environmental Challenge program and the Indiana Department of Commerce: Energy and Recycling Office. I also wrote capital campaign literature for the project. This included a preliminary booklet describing the vision behind Rieth Village and a more succinct 4-color professionally designed booklet.
When my family moved to Goshen, IN, for my husband's job, I knew I was interested in work related to care of the environment. I believed that it was the critical issue for the 21st century and wanted to be involved in promoting sustainable choices. I was attracted to Merry Lea because I had read about the Rieth Village project and was fortunate to get a job here.
My office is now located in Oshtemo Cottage. My three windows overlook a restored wetland and a tall-grass prairie that is ablaze with black-eyed susans and coneflowers in the summer. I can walk fifteen feet from my building and find a dozen kinds of butterflies. I especially enjoy the buckeyes in the fall. In September, I can hear the killdeer calling all day long, and in March, the spring peepers start up. By now, these benefits have become normal to me, but when I visit my children’s schools or the cramped, windowless cubicles of others’ workplaces, I am reminded that this opportunity to live in relationship with nature is a unique gift.
Because of my experience with Rieth Village, I was also invited to serve on a church building committee investigating the possibility of an environmentally friendly addition.
Dr. Ryan Sensenig
Lindsey Fellow, Assistant Professor of Biology and Director of Environmental Science
When working at Rieth Village, one is constantly reminded of our connections to the landscape and natural resources. The pocket prairies are constantly changing, which welcomes us to take notice of our surroundings. The hum of the wind turbine reminds us that energy production comes with costs. The weathering of the tulip poplar siding encourages us to think of longer timescales. Working in a LEED certified building not only improves our ecological footprint, it changes our consciousness about our connections to our surroundings and one another.
Students at Merry Lea
Bramble Berry Farm
Goshen College Student
I was one of the two GC students chosen to be on the design charrette process. I helped to give the charrette ideas of how Reith Village could be more attuned to student's needs.
At the time, my knowledge on these subjects was much less developed than it is now. However, I remember having a strong sense of how buildings and institutions can plug into niches of their surrounding ecosystems via creative systems like wetland wastewater treatment, food forests, use of local renewable building materials, and design around solar and other physical attributes to lower the energy demand.
I am very honored to have been part of the charrette. Even just the radical notion of a charrette has influenced my idea of how any design project can be accomplished with ties to all its key players. Seeing all the innovative ideas for sustainable design definitely started some seeds growing in me that have since led to my choice of lifestyle and livelihood of permaculture-based farming. My wife and I designed and built a passive solar straw bale house and I really believe this has roots back in the design of Reith Village that I saw taking place.
A definite favorite memory is simply being around John Todd of Living Machines, Inc. He had such a strong character to him and I remember him being totally enthralled with the idea of putting an "orangerie" glasshouse into the main classroom building, bringing it up anytime he could! Since the charrette, I've been reading more and more about the former New Alchemy Institute and I have a lot of questions I would have loved to ask him.
Goshen College Student
Major: Environmental Science and Biology
I lived at Rieth Village for the first time during May term of my junior year when I was studying ecology, and then I returned in the summer of 2008 for the agroecology summer intensive. I also lived at Rieth Village for the summers of 2009 and 2010 as a Maple Scholar, working with Dr. Ryan Sensenig on the prairie restoration and grazing research project.
I have enjoyed living at Rieth Village as a student because there are always other interesting people living there, either May term students, Agroecology students, or Maple Scholars. We get to know each other a lot more living at Rieth Village than on campus at Goshen, because we have classes during the day and then live together at night as well.
I really appreciate all of the thought that went into the buildings at Rieth Village. It has given me a lot to think about—if I ever decide to build a house or building, I will have plenty of ideas on how to do it sustainably. Living here has also made me think a lot about natural water systems, how water cycles through the earth, and water conservation.
After my time at Rieth Village I will be moving to Bolivia for a year with MCC’s SALT program, where I will be working on various sustainable development projects. The main project I will be working on is building dry, composting latrines, and working with the farmers to teach them how to use the compost from the toilets. I will also be helping farms and farmers become organic certified.
Goshen College Graduate
I worked with Luke in the visioning and early design of Rieth Village. From 2001-2002, I was an intern at Merry Lea, part time outdoor environmental education and part time assisting with the Rieth Village project. I helped research “green” construction and finishing materials, participated in the design chapeau and many meetings with the architects, and poured through countless design books.
Before this project, I had barely been exposed green design and hadn't given it much thought. However, as a Biology major and Peace & Justice minor at Goshen College, I had reflected quite a bit on sustainability and my role in local, regional and global ecosystems. Working at Merry Lea gave me a new way to reflect on these responsibilities and new appreciation for multitude of ways we can find to live in community with God's creation.
Working at Merry Lea was one of my first work experiences, and it has definitely shaped me as a professional. I learned so much from the Merry Lea staff about working as a team, encouraging and respecting creativity in each other, and striving for one's work to be informed by one's philosophy and faith. As I was present during a year of intense visioning for the project, I had the opportunity to be part of the creation of a shared vision for Rieth Village. The process was often challenging, but also satisfying.
I particularly enjoyed making the trip in to Fort Wayne with Luke to visit the architects. The trips to Fort Wayne always passed with interesting conversation about the building project, green design ideas, environmental education, and life. Visiting the architects was fascinating; there was always something about their new designs that was a complete surprise to me. I left their office with a new perspective on the project. The trip back to Merry Lea would be full of thinking through new possibilities for the buildings and the overall project.
Merry Lea Environmental Learning Center of Goshen College, P.O. Box 263 Wolf Lake, IN 46796 | Phone (260) 799-5869 • Fax (260) 799-5875