Three years have passed since Jim Walters shepherded construction of a "green church" in Scottsdale that incorporated 71 items aimed at saving energy, water and earth resources. His pride in the project continues to parallel his passion for environmental stewardship.
"Why do we think we can try to change what God created without disrespecting the Creator?" said Walters, who was building superintendent in 2005 for the campus of Papago Buttes Church of the Brethren, 2450 N. 64th St., Scottsdale. "Part of showing the love of God is to care for creation. Man's first profession was to tend the Garden" of Eden, as told in Genesis 2:15, he said.
Walters, who also serves as the church's moderator and its custodian, draws the metaphor that humans should honor whatever God created just as a parent or grandparent prizes a child's primitive artwork. "When a child marks a piece of paper with crayons, you hang it on the refrigerator no matter what you think of it," he said.
The length to which one church has sought to be intentional in incorporating many environmental features into its construction has made it a model for other church planners, well as for architects seeking design ideas for nonchurch projects, Walters said.
Papago Buttes, which has about 80 members, was one of the first major nonresidential construction projects under Scottsdale's Green Building program, with emphasis on environmentally sensitive and energy-efficient building and development. The 8,890-square-foot project, which cost $1.5 million, included two buildings, the main church with offices and an education building with a kitchen, and a social hall whose dividers can turn it into six classrooms.
"Simple living is kind of one of those deep Brethren values," said Walters, a retired Maricopa Community Colleges faculty member. "Part of simple living is to live in harmony with everybody else and with nature."
When it comes to incorporating green church features, Papago Buttes has fine-tuned it, including the directional orientation of its buildings, its stingy use of air conditioning, its drip irrigation for low-water desert plants and waterless urinals in the men's restrooms.
Other features include thermal mass walls made of insulated concrete forms, or hollow blocks of panels made of plastic foam, with interlocking edges that fit together like Legos. Concrete is then poured into the center of the forms. With stucco on the outside and drywall on the inside, they have a minimum temperature transfer rating of R-50.
That construction mitigates sounds of traffic on 64th Street.
The church's parking lot features compacted granite gravel rather than asphalt that holds and radiates heat. "When you walk across this, it is a lot cooler, even the walkways," Walters said, whose three-acre property has a striking view of Camelback Mountain.
When drivers turn from the pavement of 64th street onto crunching gravel, there's an instant message of a different place, he said.
All floors in the buildings are painted - no tile or linoleum, allowing for minimum maintenance. Recycled materials were used for the insulation. Pews from the previous church at 27th Street and Osborn Road in Phoenix were cut and turned into countertops and woodwork. The outdoor children play area floor is a composition of 5 inches of shredded tires that can absorb falls from play equipment in the sheltered 20-by-30-foot area.
The church's commercial kitchen has an array of energy-saving equipment, including the freezer, refrigerator and a stove whose pilot light does not burn continuously. "We shut off the gas to all our burners and just light those with a lighter when we want to use them, so they aren't burning all the time," he said. The dishwasher uses only about 5 quarts of water and recycles its rinse water for a second load, with sanitizer then added. Meals are served on plates and silverware rather than on paper, Styrofoam or plastic utensils.
The church's recycle bin collect discards, while the little true garbage generated on campus is taken home by members to put into their own trash bins, Walters said.
He is amused that Scottsdale officials told him that, during the permit application process, he turned in water-use estimates that were deemed too low. But in reality, his estimates turned out to be 15 percent too high. "They were trying to make me triple all my estimates, which would have resulted in $10,000 to $12,000 more in (development) fees," he said.
Churches are considered to be commercial buildings, and they have to meet all the commercial standards set by the city, he noted, but because it is tax-exempt, Papago Buttes gets none of the tax incentives the city offers for green construction.
"Our water usage is really low, and part of it is that we monitor the drip system, and when it rains a lot, we shut the thing off," he said. If he had his druthers, Walters would add solar collectors to heat water, and he sees opportunities for water reclamation from roof runoff during rains.
Walters couldn't give data on savings from the combined efforts. "I do know there are benefits to being green," he said. "We have people attending who bought a house when they saw that we have a green building here - and because they are here, that has had some other effects on people in the congregation. Plus people are just more aware of recycling."
For a full list of the church's green building features, see www.scottsdaleaz.gov/assetfactory.aspx?did=7395.