EPA's Sustainable Management Approaches and Revitalization Tools-electronic (SMARTe) helps communities plan for the future.
When most people think of a hospital, they picture images of a big, white building filled with bustling doctors and nurses. Clean. Efficient. Organized. Perhaps that once fit the description of the former Cardwell Hospital of Stella, Missouri. But by late 2005, the long since abandoned building was a dilapidated, ghost of a structure with a failing roof, peeling paint, and ruptured, asbestos-laden pipe insulation and floor tiles.
Time and neglect had turned a place of healing into a health hazard.
The Village of Stella acquired the property in July, 2005 and surrounded it with a barrier fence. EPA officially declared a need for a “Time-Critical Removal Action” for the site. The Agency would carefully raze the old structure, remove friable asbestos and other contaminants, and rehabilitate the overall site enough to “reduce the threat posed by airborne health hazards to trespassers or children at or in the vicinity of the building.”
By August 2006, the building was gone, and some 2,000 tons of debris were hauled away and safely disposed of under EPA supervision. The town of Stella was eager to turn the loss of the old hospital into an opportunity not just to rebuild on the site, but revitalize the downtown area, and perhaps spark a sense of renewal for the entire community.
That’s when the town got SMARTe.
Sustainable Management Approaches and Revitalization Tools- electronic (SMARTe) was developed through a collaboration between scientists, land use planners, engineers, and other specialists from the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research, the Interstate Technology and Regulatory Council, and EPA. It is a web-based resource that provides information, a suite of tools, and decision-support applications to assist communities such as Stella with redeveloping contaminated and potentially contaminated properties.
The goal of SMARTe is to provide an easily-accessible, user-friendly “one stop shop” for any community faced with revitalizing a contaminated site. It contains information and tools for a wide diversity of aspects pertaining to the revitalization process, including finding sources of money, strategic planning, risk assessment and risk management, and community involvement. To foster partnership building and cooperation, SMARTe provides a virtual gathering spot, allowing multiple stakeholders to come together in a web-based environment to evaluate, discuss, and build consensus on different reuse options for a specific site or apply sustainable concepts across larger areas.
The SMARTe site currently receives between 40,000 and 50,000 hits per month from over 90 different countries. Due to the success of the American site, The Hemholtz Centre for Environmental Research in Germany is developing its own German version (DE.SMARTe). This process is part of a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement with EPA and will provide a more complete picture of the work being done internationally. New features on DE.SMARTe will eventually be incorporated back into the original site.
Stella, a community of less than 200 people, lacked the resources to tackle an extensive revitalization project on its own. But that small size was also an advantage, making the town an ideal place to put the emerging tools and support programs of SMARTe to the test in a real world situation. A member of the SMARTe development team from Kansas State University introduced the idea of using the resource to some Stella citizens and board members, and a partnership was born.
EPA Scientists provided technical expertise to complement the resources in SMARTe, and worked closely with the community to create a master plan that went far beyond rebuilding on the rehabilitated former hospital site. Instead, they created an innovative master plan that could serve as a case study for rural communities dedicated to rebuilding economic and social structures while simultaneously protecting the natural environment.
“The EPA-developed master plan gave Stella’s citizens a physical representation of their vision and opportunities to become involved in its future. It gave our laboratory the opportunity to apply a strategy and theory that we hoped would enable land-use decisions to be made now that would meet human objectives while assuring that the natural, social, and economic systems are able to sustain the community,” explains EPA community planner and architect Verle Hansen on the web site of the National Building Museum. The museum featured Stella’s use of SMARTe and additional EPA technical support in its Green Community , an exhibit and Web site exploring the design of sustainable communities.
A number of community projects outlined in the master plan for Stella—including creating a streamside park for residents, building a new veteran’s memorial, and organizing a farmer’s market—are now under way. These projects are small steps on the path toward sustainability, helping beautify the community at a reasonable cost along the way.
Based on what they learned working with communities such as Stella, the SMARTe team is working towards developing new features to offer, such as a “sustainability calculator,” that will help land use planners consider sustainability over larger areas.
The breadth of information and diversity of disciplines available through SMARTe and EPA is proving to be an invaluable resource for helping communities plan for a sustainable future. It has already helped a small community in rural Missouri turn an abandoned, dangerous former hospital site into an opportunity for the future.That’s SMARTe thinking.