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Building conference to educate owners, inspire community

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If the state of a community's buildings can be likened to the health of a person's body, The Building Conference 2013 will be like a rousing pep talk from a team of health experts, family and friends.

"It started out as a conference focusing on building efficiency," said Sarah Halstead, conference programmer for The Building Conference and Expo 2013, scheduled for Jan. 31-Feb. 2 at Waterfront Place in Morgantown.

"But with an estimated 60 percent of our housing stock in critical need of repair and communities looking for ways to deal with abandoned buildings, affordable housing, rising utility costs, aging water and transportation systems and chart-topping health issues, we couldn't narrowly focus on energy efficiency," Halstead said. "The fact is, how we design our communities has everything to do with all aspects of our lives and the health of our people."

The conference kicks off with Jan. 31 and Feb. 1 talks by experts the conference organizers describe as "paradigm-busting."

Later Feb. 1, the conference will proceed on four tracks: education and facilities, residential performance, commercial innovation and sustainable communities.

Halstead highlighted an afternoon session in the education and facilities track about engaging students as action-oriented problem-solvers.

"Matthew Miller, he's from West Virginia and co-founded Studio H, is described as the ‘MacGyver-in-residence' — he's a metal fabricator, can build anything on the spot, he's an architect, he loves teaching high school kids; he's transformed a traditional high school shop class into a design school and throws in a civic project because they design things that are needed in the community," Halstead said of one of the session leaders.

The session is co-led by Steven Ritz from the Green Bronx Machine.

"He talks about how he deals especially with special ed kids, and he has them doing high-end, beautiful ‘green wall' installations that are architecturally significant. These kids grow and sell food, and they design. And now they're entrepreneurs and they're making money," she said.

A green wall installation is a vertical garden plot.

Other education and facilities sessions showcase West Virginia schools that have saved thousands of dollars through energy efficiency measures and a tour of the new, green Eastwood Elementary School in Morgantown.

The residential performance track focuses on the advantages of building to various certification standards. Experts will discuss building to Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, as well as to Energy Star, EarthCraft House, Enterprise Green Communities and other standards. The "passive house" will be discussed, and master builders will share their tips and philosophies.

Sessions in the commercial innovation track will cover with historic buildings and how to renovate for energy efficiency, Halstead said. In one session, public agency building owners will explain what they want,char and experts will talk about how to help them.

Finally, the sustainable communities track tackles some of the toughest problems municipalities deal with, Halstead said. Those include water and wastewater, dilapidated housing, transportation costs and infrastructure issues. Sessions will discuss ways to re-imagine small communities, and design charettes, or brainstorming sessions, put re-imagining to work while experts are on hand.

On the night of Feb. 1, an Ignite session offers an hour of quick, five-minute presentations.

The following morning, the "Mind Garage" will feature young entrepreneurs, innovators and designers. That event will be followed by awards in sustainable innovation, commercial innovation, sustainable community development, industry stewardship, residential and commercial building and advocacy.

The concurrent expo is a "curated" collection of sustainable, high-performance products, professionals, organizations and ideas — each one personally invited to exhibit.

The Building Conference 2013 brings a fresh transparency to what is possible, according to conference Communications Director Rebecca Kimmons.

"Instead of being in silos and have a closed-door trade meeting where these issues are discussed, all these connected problems that touch all of our lives are being discussed in an open forum here — and the public is invited to understand the issues," Kimmons said.

Also unique to this conference is a focus on building-owner advocacy.

"Generally the architects and builders tell you what they can do," Halstead said. "We're teaching building owners not only what can be, we're teaching them what should be, what they need to ask for, clueing them in on what the costs should be to protect their budgets and connecting them with the professionals that can get it done."

Pre-conference trainings will take place on Jan. 30 and the morning of Jan. 31.

The Building Conference is organized by WV GreenWorks with support from corporate, nonprofit and academic sponsors.

Registration is $199; $99 for VISTA and AmeriCorps volunteers. To learn more or to register, visit http://www.thebuildingconference.com.