Superfund Site Becomes Net Energy-Positive Housing

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Oxford Place Senior Apartments are high-efficiency units on a former Superfund site. Oxford Place Senior Apartments are high-efficiency units on a former Superfund site.

An Indianapolis neighborhood that was once home to a chemically-contaminated business site is now the location of one of the greenest – if not the greenest – buildings in the state.

The Englewood neighborhood on the near eastside of Indianapolis has suffered a drain of residents over the past years and has dealt with the toxic brownfield right on the heavily-travelled East Washington Street corridor. Once the location of Crown Commercial Cleaners, or Crown Laundry as it was locally known, the large lot at Oxford and Washington was a reminder of a legacy both good and bad.

“Crown Laundry did a lot of business in our neighborhood, did a lot of good in our neighborhood for many, many decades, and employed several hundred neighborhood residents,” says Englewood Community Development Corporation co-director Joe Bowling. But when Crown Laundry closed, it left behind roughly three acres of soil and groundwater contaminated with toxic industrial solvents. Bowling says more than 100,000 tons of contaminated soil and a dozen underground tanks were removed in the massive cleanup effort.

A new senior community now sits on the site, phase one of which is a new apartment building that’s a marvel of modern energy efficiency.

The Oxford Place Senior Apartments, currently moving in its first residents, contains 30 individual housing units and was designed to be the first net energy-positive development in the state. That means it is intended to produce more energy on-site through use of solar photo-voltaic generation than what is consumed by the residents living there.

Bowling says DkGr Architects created a building plan that, from the start, would only consume about 50 percent of the energy a traditional 30-unit building would use, from light bulbs to toilet fixtures to wall construction.

“There are even things called transpired solar collectors that are built into the skin of the building that preheat air before it enters the building in the winter so that you’re using less energy to heat air,” explains Bowling. “Solar panels cover every inch of the roof and will also go on some of the covered parking spaces.”

The Oxford Place project is a cornerstone of the city’s Great Places 2020 plan, with Englewood as one of three areas targeted for concerted revitalization efforts. Great Places 2020 aims to combat high levels of pollution and obesity, high unemployment and poverty rates, population loss to neighboring counties and low graduation rates.

Bowling says the units in the new building are all priced for low-income seniors, which is important to the neighborhood’s efforts to allow Englewood’s oldest residents to age in place. Other benefits include an on-site greenhouse for gardening, a fitness loop, bicycle accessibility, as well as easy use of IndyGo’s Blue Line transit route. The idea, he explains, is to create an easy-to-navigate neighborhood that doesn’t require residents to set foot in a car.

Funding applications for phase two of the development are being submitted in November, with hopes they’ll be approved in the spring of 2017 and construction underway next fall. Phase three is currently planned as a mixed-use market rate development featuring retail space and apartments.

“We have room for more residents now, at 60 percent or below of the area median income,” says Bowling. “The rent is capped to be affordable. That way we’re able to keep more of our seniors who have lived here in the neighborhood. They have been the backbone for so long, and we are stronger if we keep them, their families, their stories and their wisdom in place. We’re glad to provide that space.”

Joe Bowling describes early plans for phase three of the Oxford Place development.
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