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'Missoula Federal Credit Union celebrates "green" certification of Russell Street branch

by BILL SCHWANKE, The Missoulian

Thursday afternoon's Platinum Party had little to do with the plaque the Missoula Federal Credit Union earned for its new Russell Street branch being certified at the highest LEED level.

The plaque has been hanging on a wall there for more than a month.

The reason Missoula Mayor John Engen was on hand was to help MFCU honor the contractors and subcontractors who wholeheartedly bought into the idea of going after platinum-level LEED certification before construction even started more than two years ago.

After all, the facility was built with the intention of earning the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design recognition. And Thursday also happened to be International Credit Union Day.

So when the plaque arrived late last summer, "it was the cherry on top," said Joni Walker, MFCU senior vice president.

The folks at MacArthur, Means and Wells architects and Gordon Construction had the list of requirements for platinum certification at the beginning of the process. Walker said that when MFCU asked the contractors and subcontractors if they were up to the task, every single one enthusiastically jumped on board.

The credit union's leadership also knew the project would cost more because of the green emphasis, but they had more than one reason for going forward.

"One, we're showing the community that it can happen," explained Walker. "You can use these materials, and this is how they look when they're installed."

The first glimpse of what MFCU had planned to do came in September 2007, with a collection of glass to be crushed for the project. That was followed by a second glass drive on Earth Day in April 2008.

The response was so heavy both times that MFCU had to turn people away.

Walker said the building schedule occasionally was slowed because it was difficult to round up some of the materials the architects and builders wanted to use.

"Some of the things aren't available readily," Walker explained, "like the sunflower-seed pressed board for the cabinets. Long lead times for those things."

One thing MMW and Gordon Construction might not use again in remodels or new construction is the combination of fly ash and crushed glass in place of concrete, because fly ash - a byproduct of a burning coal - "is temperamental," Walker said.

However, shredded denim used to insulate the building is working well. So well, in fact, that MFCU had a small hole cut in one wall so people could see the old jeans through a pane of glass.

The facility already has shown economic benefits from going green.

Solar panels installed above the drive-through now produce about 13 percent of the energy used in the building. Walker expects the panels to account for a savings of about $20,000 a year.

(This article originally appeared in The Missoulian on October 15, 2009. Reprinted with permission. )


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