Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Goshen College’s Rieth Village is awarded a prestigious Platinum LEED rating — one of only 42 such environmental designations in the United States

Celebrating Excellence: Rieth Village, an ecological field station for undergraduate environmental study at Merry Lea Environmental Learning Center of Goshen College, was awarded a Platinum Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating by the U.S. Green Building. Celebrating the accomplishment on Feb. 11, 2008 were, left to right: Luke Gascho, executive director of Merry Lea Environmental Learning Center of Goshen College; U.S. Rep. Mark Souder, R-Fort Wayne; George Morrison of Morrison Kattman Menze, Inc.; Mac Williams, chair of the Indiana Chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council; Mike McKay of Morrison Kattman Menze, Inc.; Holly Hunter of Hamilton Hunter Builders, Inc.; and Goshen College President James E. Brenneman.

WOLF LAKE, Ind. — “You have set the bar high for the rest of the state of Indiana,” remarked Mac Williams, chair of the Indiana Chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) as he unveiled a glass plaque announcing Indiana’s first platinum-rated LEED building on Monday, Feb. 11.

The plaque will adorn a wall at Rieth Village, an ecological field station for undergraduate environmental study at Merry Lea Environmental Learning Center of Goshen College, south of Wolf Lake, Ind. Platinum Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating is the U.S. Green Building Council’s highest honor for environmentally sustainable building design. Rieth Village was the 42nd building in the country to earn this distinction for new construction. Rieth Village also is the only platinum-certified project in Indiana, Michigan or Ohio.

“Any way you look at it, Rieth Village is extraordinary,” said President James E. Brenneman. “I believe that Rieth Village will continue to have a lasting influence on Goshen College’s commitment to creation care and sustainability. And it will inspire many others on and off campus.”

Buildings registered with the USGBC’s LEED rating system earn points in the categories of energy, water, site, materials and indoor air quality. A platinum rating requires 52 points; Rieth Village received 55 points for distinctive features such as passive solar design, cisterns for recycling rainwater, tulip poplar siding harvested locally, solar panels and a wind generator.

Speakers at the Feb. 11 ceremony addressed the question, “What has this project meant to my organization?”

Luke Gascho, Merry Lea’s executive director, said the green building project grew from a faith-based understanding that humans are called to bring rest and renewal to the earth. Planners began with the question, “How can we bring building processes together in such a way that the earth is actually restored?” he said. One expression of this approach was the “ground healing” ceremony in 2005 that kicked off the building process. Participants spread compost rather than breaking the ground with a shovel.

Mike McKay, a partner with the architectural firm, Morrison Kattman Menze, Inc., described his role and the team that worked with him as that of conductors of an orchestra “playing a wonderful piece of music written by the people, place and spirit of Merry Lea.” McKay said he especially values the collaborative process that the project required and the opportunity to learn on the job.

“Merry Lea has touched the very soul of our practice and it influences the choices we continue to make with other clients,” McKay said. “Through this experience, I have grown wiser, more passionate, more spiritual.”

Holly Hunter, CEO of Hamilton Hunter Builders, Inc., compared her experience as general contractor for Rieth Village to taking a college course where you do not know what to expect but are deeply changed during the learning process. “Rieth Village was one of those transformational experiences,” Hunter said. “On the surface, the elements seemed common: three buildings, earthwork, a wind turbine. But to describe Rieth Village as simply that is to describe a work of art as paint on canvas,” she explained, emphasizing the painstaking attention to detail required to create a sustainable building.

President Brenneman called Rieth Village “the most tangible evidence yet that Merry Lea has become a thought leader in environmental practice, sustainability and environmental education.” For Brenneman, pursuing platinum certification at Merry Lea is a way for Goshen College to go public about its identity as an institution that sees care for creation as one of the central concerns of Christianity.

Rieth Village is one of a number of efforts to take climate change and other environmental issues seriously at Goshen College. Brenneman was the second college president in Indiana to sign the American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment to work toward a carbon neutral campus. An Ecological Stewardship Committee, composed of students, faculty and staff, is now in place. Thanks to conservation measures that reduce use of natural gas and electricity, a recent energy analysis showed that even though the college has increased its square footage by 20 percent in the past 10 years, energy consumption has remained the same or dropped. The college’s January electric bill was the lowest it has been in 10 years.

“Our students are ecological leaders,” Brenneman added. Thanks to student advocacy, the college considers green issues when buying items such as furniture, and cooking oil is recycled into fuel for lawn mowers. Members of an environmental club called EcoPax have worked with recycling on campus and river cleanup.

U.S. Rep. Mark Souder, R-Fort Wayne, also attended the ceremony and offered his support for the project. “It is really important to lead by example, and Merry Lea has done that,” Souder observed. Souder hopes to see more green design in his district in coming years.

Mac Williams agrees. Part of his role as chair of the Indiana Chapter of the USGBC includes advocating for House Bill 1280, which would require all buildings constructed with taxpayers’ money to be built to LEED silver standards or better. At present, Indiana is one of the few states without government incentives to build green. “We need to think about long-term savings,” Williams says. “Energy costs could change quickly and dramatically.”

President Brenneman said the platinum rating for Rieth Village is the latest example that Merry Lea, with its slogan of “where Earth and people meet,” has established itself as a “thought leader” in environmental education and ecological practice in ways that also include providing nature programs for all ages, and offering a new master’s degree program in environmental education.

“Mennonite peoples have historically been closely tied to the land and justifiably often called ‘the quiet in the land.’ Our efforts at Goshen College and Rieth Village are endeavors in becoming more public about who we are and articulating more broadly what our core values have always been,” Brenneman said.

“We have taken these steps forward — and one step leads to another step — because we believe one of the central claims of the Gospel to be that ‘God so loved the world.’ That includes the whole cosmos, including the creation God called ‘very good.’ By creating Rieth Village and pursuing ecological stewardship, we are acting out our love for God and for our planet. We seek to be caretakers of creation and fulfill our vocation to love whomever and whatever God loves.”

Merry Lea, located in Noble County south of Wolf Lake, is a 1,150-acre natural sanctuary for northern Indiana’s plants and animals. Its diverse landscape includes wetlands, prairies, meadows, upland and lowland forests, bogs and lakeshores. Merry Lea also provides environmental education for people of all ages and a setting for re-creating opportunities that benefit the human body and spirit without exploiting the land. This nature preserve hosts over 7,000 children and hundreds of college students each year.

Merry Lea, created with the assistance of the Nature Conservancy and the generosity of Lee A. and Mary Jane Rieth, is owned and operated by Goshen College. For more information, go to or call (260) 799-5869.

—By Jennifer Schrock and Richard R. Aguirre

Editors: For more information about this article, contact Goshen College Public Relations Director Richard R. Aguirre at (574) 535-7571 or


Goshen College, established in 1894, is a residential Christian liberal arts college rooted in the Anabaptist-Mennonite tradition. The college’s Christ-centered core values – passionate learning, global citizenship, compassionate peacemaking and servant-leadership – prepare students as leaders for the church and world. Recognized for its unique Study-Service Term program, Goshen has earned citations of excellence in Barron’s Best Buys in Education, “Colleges of Distinction,” “Making a Difference College Guide” and U.S.News & World Report’s “America’s Best Colleges” edition, which named Goshen a “least debt college.” Visit

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