CityLove: Boise According to Local Preservationist Kris Wilson

Posted on: February 26th, 2014 by Grant Stevens 4 Comments

Kris Wilson, Program Manager at the Idaho Chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council. Credit: Kris Wilson
Kris Wilson, Program Manager at the Idaho Chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council

As part of the CityLove Blog series, we wanted to highlight a local leader -- someone who is in the city, living the preservation-minded, place-loving life. For this month’s city of Boise, we chose Kris Wilson, Program Manager at the Idaho Chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council. We hope you enjoy our chat with him!

For historic preservation/placemaking/urban planning fans, what is a must-see place in Boise for a first-time visitor?

One great example of an urban planning/placemaking success would be The Linen District in downtown Boise. A former laundry facility that had deteriorated and been left as a contaminated brownfield site, the property is now an arts venue which prides itself on offering environmentally friendly special events. Redevelopment of the Linen Building has breathed new life and green business enterprise into the district.

The Linen building was originally built in 1910. Remediation of the environmental hazards and renovation of the building gave new life to the property and the surrounding area. Credit: smartgrowthamerica.org
The Linen building was originally built in 1910. Remediation of the environmental hazards and renovation of the building gave new life to the property and the surrounding area.

Where is your favorite place in Boise, and why?

My favorite place would be Fort Boise, the old military fort situated between the base of the foothills and Downtown Boise. The simple answer is that I like this location because if I am there, I am typically making my way into the foothills for an excursion. The more involved answer involves irony and contrast.

When you pass the stone walls and buildings of Fort Boise, it is ironic to think that the stones were quarried from the nearby hills for the purpose of defending the occupants from the dangers that might emerge from the very same hills. As you lose site of the Fort and quickly become surrounded by the steep foothills, the realization that you have left Boise and entered into the mountainous wilderness of Idaho that stretches unbroken to Canada is sudden and apparent. The isolation and vast distances of the western U.S. are made real and tangible, and it is easy to imagine that today, Boise’s strong sense of community now forms the protective walls of the city.

A scene from modern-day Fort Boise, which is actually the second fort on the site. The site now includes a VA Hospital, a federal building, a U.S. courthouse, and a City of Boise park. Credit: Boise Architecture Project

We are big fans of Smith Magazine’s Six Word Memoir Project. What are your six words about Boise?

An unassuming place of pleasant surprises.

USGBC Idaho works to “accelerate the implementation of sustainable building concepts, technologies and practices through education and advocacy.” What does an average day look like for you?

Communication, communication, communication. Our task is to keep the dialogue about green building relevant. Keeping big picture concepts in mind, like how our built environment impacts human health and environmental integrity isn’t generally an item on most people’s daily to-do list. We try to connect the dots for people so that they don’t have to keep track of green building trends and best practices on their own. We provide educational opportunities and conduct ongoing outreach to ensure that everyone involved understands the value of implementing green building practices.

The CSHQA building was a former warehouse before its $2 million overhaul. Credit: Paigemechanical.com
The CSHQA building was a former warehouse before its $2 million overhaul.

Can you give us a LEED (which is administered by USGBC National, not state chapters) overview? Why should historic preservationists be interested in LEED?

LEED, or Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design is a third party certification that rates green building projects by assigning points for various prerequisites. LEED certified buildings typically have lower operating costs and increase asset value, and LEED can help a project qualify for money-saving incentives such as tax rebates and zoning allowances.

Of the five distinct LEED rating systems, preservationists will find overlap with the LEED ND (Neighborhood Design) category. LEED ND recognizes the value of historic resources in providing a sense of place and fabric for the neighborhood which is important for attracting people and maintaining a vibrant character.

Another category would be LEED BD+C (Building Design + Construction). A great example of this style of adaptive reuse project is the CSHQA building in Boise’s Central Addition downtown neighborhood. The company (a design firm specializing in architecture and engineering) chose an adaptive reuse LEED project to “walk the walk” of green building in their Boise headquarters. By using an aging building they continue to contribute to the economic vitality of the neighborhood while preserving the embodied energy and footprint of the original building.

The CSHQA building after its renovation. It used LEED BD+C certification as an adaptive reuse project. Credit: paigemechanical.com
The CSHQA building after its renovation. It used LEED BD+C certification as an adaptive reuse project.

What is the biggest challenge you have seen for folks working with historic buildings?

The financial side of retrofits to historic buildings is the most challenging. People whose focus is the historic resource will tend to weight the historic value heavier than those whose lens is predominantly new development. Ultimately, both sides need to bend a bit to come to a reasonable conclusion.

But even after an accurate market value is determined, locating willing investors can be challenging. There are some cases where a building is just too far gone to warrant restoration investment. Those projects can be particularly challenging for the stakeholders who favor historic preservation.

What can preservationists do to make sure historic preservation is part of the discussion with groups like the USGBC?

Join us at the table! That is what is happening here in Boise where organizations including Preservation Idaho, the National Trust, and Smart Growth Idaho convene to promote neighborhood scale sustainability in the Central Addition district. Working together around a unifying principle gives advocacy groups a stronger voice and brings more people to the discussion which can lead to better decision making and a stronger community.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

Grant Stevens

Grant Stevens

Grant is the Manager of Community Outreach at the National Trust. He's proud to be from a Main Street Community and the Black Dirt Capitol of the World – Conrad, Iowa! Growing up on a farm, he always loved going to town and looking at the historic buildings. Now a resident of DC, Grant enjoys reading, running, and anything rural.

Green, Interviews, Local Preservationists

4 Responses

  1. C'mon man

    February 26, 2014

    Last question – what can preservationists due…? Due? You mean, what can preservationists DO…? C’mon man.

  2. Paula Benson

    March 3, 2014

    Very nice overview of Boise and the efforts going on here. It is a beautiful, small city finding its balance between the new and the old; trying to keep the best of both and doing a good job (but not without a lot of struggles between those who demolish and those who preserve!) Thanks for recognizing the work going on here.

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    […] be sure to check out our other posts about Boise (an overview of the city and our interview with Kris Wilson). […]

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    […] be sure to check out our other posts about Boise (an overview of the city and our interview with Kris Wilson). […]