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IHM Sisters exemplify resilience in Monroe

by Claire Karner
Friday, June 28, 2013

The Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, believe sustainability is a moral mandate for the 21st century. Built in 1932 during the Great Depression, their 376,000 square foot Motherhouse with 18 inch concrete and brick walls was deemed by architects and engineers to be built solidly enough to last into the 23rd century. By the late 1990’s the building was in serious need of a renovation.  The need to transform their motherhouse to respond to the health care needs of their members offered the IHMs an opportunity for re-visioning their entire Monroe campus to respond to the wider needs of the world.

The IHM community chose an environmentally responsive and sustainable design, renovating the indoors and restoring the campus as one sustainable and cohesive system. The renovated LEED certified motherhouse has reduced their demand for energy (e.g., geo-thermal heating and cooling system), reduced freshwater consumption by over 50% by recycling wastewater (gray water) on-site, and salvaged building materials for reuse. The IHMs restored meadow savannahs planted with native grasses and wildflowers and created swales in the parking lots that relieve the city drainage system by capturing storm water runoff. The campus includes a community garden and a 518 kW solar array (part of the DTE Solar Currents program). The 382 sisters who call the Motherhouse home have truly transformed their campus into a ‘learning laboratory for sustainable living.’ To date, more than 10,000 visitors have toured the IHM motherhouse and campus to learn about more resilient ways of living.

After the sustainable renovation was complete, the Sisters have not slowed in their quest to build sustainable community. The Campus Greening Committee ensures the purchase of "green" office and cleaning supplies, saving the IHM community more than $2,000 a year. The Motherhouse has also replaced two eight-yard dumpsters that were once emptied three times a week with one eight-yard recycling dumpster that's emptied twice a week. This cost savings amounts to more than $11,000 to date.

These efforts help the whole community become more resilient. By reducing their demands for water and energy, the IHM community is both saving money and reducing overall community demand for public services. Further, local production of food and renewable energy can help extend regional supplies if outside sources should ever be disrupted. Learn more about the IHM Sisters and their quest for sustainability here.

Project Service Providers:LIAACommunity Foundation of Monroe CountyMichigan Municipal LeagueMichigan Townships AssociationMichigan Association of PlanningUniversity of Michigan