Glen Speer, Stanley Selengut and Rob Crane at the Island Green Buiding Association’s award ceremony at Concordia on Saturday, May 8.
Listening to the forward-thinking words spoken by Stanley Selengut, the civil engineer and environmental visionary who continually redefines the boundaries of sustainable development on St. John and around the world, one would never guess the man articulating them was 81-years-old.
His trim white beard may hint at his age, but his Caribbean-blue eyes and passion for revolutionizing what it means to build not only with the environment in mind, but specifically for its future, reveal an almost youthful energy.
“This is first project of its kind on the island — and probably anywhere in the world,” Selengut said proudly of Concordia Eco Resort’s brand new units.
Selengut added to his repertoire of awards May 8 when he accepted the Island Green Building Association’s (IGBA) 4-Star Tropical Green Building Certification for the four new eco-studios at Concordia which utilize an advanced Eco-Panel building system to keep the hot out and cool in. The units’ specially-glazed windows maximize cooling with minimal construction waste, and additional features include site-sensitive construction, recycled building materials, elevated walkways, water and energy saving fixtures, solar hot water, wind energy, photo voltaic cells and passive solar design.
“Because these units are so super insulated, we can keep them cool with very little energy and cost,” Selengut said. “It is kind of like a walk-in refrigerator — they keep the sun’s rays out, when there is a breeze you don’t need any air conditioning and when there is not a breeze, you can close the windows and they can be air conditioned with very little energy produced by the photo-volcaic panels on the roof.”
Selengut said the secret to keeping the structures super energy efficient lies in the panels — built with six inches of foam between the inside wall and outside plywood, wrapped in foil and finished with recycled plank siding.
“When you bond these together, they are strong as concrete, but the big thing is there is no concrete used in these units except the footings which were hand poured,” Selengut said. “So you can really build over the ground with very little site construction and no waste. It really is a big step forward in new ways to approach construction.”
As Selengut will tell you, sustainability has evolved into somewhat of a buzzword often geared toward the wealthy, leaving few cost-effective options for the average person who wants to build conscientiously.
“We have tried to combine sustainability with affordability in the new units,” he said. “Things are getting so expensive and there is such a high cost of building and maintaining these ‘sustainable’ houses that it is getting limited to the very wealthy. But these are units the middle-income person can afford.”
The walls, floors and ceilings in Concordia’s new units were made from SIPS (Structural Insulated Panel System) and all window and door openings and electrical and water runs were prefabricated in the panels in order to eliminate any waste.
“This is a big improvement over traditional construction methods,” said Maggie Day, Concordia’s vice president.
And the affordable, sustainable and waste-less construction doesn’t stop with the exterior — the units have integrated Maho’s Trash to Treasures artistic creativity into its innovative interiors.
“The counter tops in the four studios were made by mixing crushed recycled glass with white Portland cement and grinding it down so glass comes to the surface and a sealer tops it,” Selengut said.
Bathroom counter tops glimmer green thanks to crushed Heineken bottles while the kitchens boast a Budweiser-brown sheen that pairs flawlessly with the corked flooring.
With approximately 30 beer bottles used per square foot, four Concordia units prevented nearly 600 glass bottles from going into the dump while gaining some uniquely colorful counter tops. The glass globes surrounding the fixtures in the units were also fashioned from recycled glass.
“This was so successful that I think it has real potential for a new industry,” Selengut exclaimed. “The long-term potential is that you could eventually cast legs and frames for tables from waste aluminum and make tops from waste glass — just think of all the shipping and transportation you can cut down by doing it all right here.”
“It is a whole new approach to creating new materials that can provide much more efficient and sustainable construction with almost no waste,” he added.
Glen Speer designed the studios and Doug White helped incorporate energy solutions, but Selengut said the architects are constantly coming up with improved ideas for the next 11 units.
“Luckily by building four at a time, each cluster gives us knowledge to help us better build the next four,” Selengut said.
Day gave credit to Margaret Majette with St. John Projects who managed the project and David Rosa who served as engineer.
“When you are building green, you can’t just buy products off the shelf, you really have to do your research,” Day said. “With green building, it took us over a year to get the buildings permitted because it is a process that has never been done in the islands before.”
Selengut was especially pleased with IGBA’s innovative award — a fitting Trash to Treasures plaque featuring four jade starfish.
“It was the most innovative award I’ve ever gotten — it sort of symbolized what we’ve tried to accomplish in our new units,” he said. “I am so proud of the people who made this happen — Maggie Day has done so much, and Glen Speer went way beyond the scope of an architect.”
Though Selengut has developed a myriad of projects over the years, he said the eco units at Concordia will always remain special to him.
“Concordia is very important to me,” he said. “Maho is on land I lease, but Concordia is on land I own. And my hope is that it becomes a haven for a certain type of human being.”