ARCHITECTURE by Mark Gordon | Managing Editor
One of the greenest of green buildings in the Gulf Coast takes, well, a lot of greenbacks. It's worth ever dollar, its owners say.
alling on a lumber company to lead the green building revolution is sort of like asking a pacifist to lead a military strike. Tearing down trees hasn't always been considered the most environmentally friendly activity.
Still, Kimal Lumber, one of the Gulf Coast's largest lumber supply companies, is a true green go-getter.
Its president, Al Bavry, was talking greenspeak in the early to mid-1990s, long before the idea of putting buildings together with environmentally safe and energy-reducing products became the trend it is today. Bavry's vision even led the Venice-based business to become a big player in the Florida House Learning Center, a totally green, high-tech and energy-efficient model home in Sarasota built partially with help from the University of Florida.
The company's latest contribution to the greening of the construction industry is its Kimal Event Center, which celebrates its one-year anniversary this month. Some builders and architects statewide consider the $2 million, 7,500-square-foot building - it's also Kimal's headquarters - to be the Gold Standard of environmentally sound construction. The building, as well as a truss plant and a factory, sits on 20 acres in Venice, a few miles from the Jacaranda Boulevard exit of Interstate 75.
What's more, the building serves as a show-and-tell stage for other builders and contractors seeking to go green. "[Kimal] is a huge resource for Florida," says Nina Powers, an official with Sustainable Sarasota, a county-run support program for environmentally friendly construction. "It's one thing to want to build green, but it's another thing to have access to the materials."
The building's features include waterless urinals and low flow toilets that save the company about 100,000 gallons of water a year; ceiling tiles made with a high percentage of recycled materials; and a reception area made up of antique, river-recovered heartpine wood, which saves additional trees from being cut down.
Bavry concedes he gets a bit corny when bragging about the Kimal Event Center. "To build this building the way we did cost considerably more then the cheaper alternative," says Bavry, adding that building a new headquarters the non-green way might have cost about $1 million, not the $2 million the company spent. "But we saw it as the right thing to do."
Studs and plywood
Still, Kimal Lumber wants to be, and is, more than an environmental slogan. The company, which had $57.2 million in 2006 revenues, manufactures and sells a variety of lumber and metal building products and also sells and installs decks, docks, windows and doors.
And while growth has been turtle-slow lately compared to even just two years ago, the company nonetheless has come a long way since Bavry, 69, co-founded it in 1981. Back then, the goal was simply to be a studs and plywood company for local contractors.
While growing up in Wisconsin, Bavry worked as a as a yard hand and a carpenter's helper at several local lumberyards. In 1969, Bavry took a management position with a neighborhood lumber company that was ultimately bought out by Wickes Lumber, then the Home Depot of the industry.
Bavry would go on to work for Wickes for about the next 10 years, seeing the company go through several transformations before it filed for bankruptcy in 1981. That's when Bavry and his business partner Kim Pavkovich founded Kimal, named after its founders' first names.
The company has since expanded significantly, although Bavry says 90% of its business remains with Florida contractors. In 1987, it built its first truss plant and added dozens of more materials and products to its portfolio. In 2003, the company opened a high-tech truss plant in Venice and next door to that, in late 2005, it opened a window and door production facility.
Although the economic slowdown and residential real estate slump of the past year caused Kimal Lumber to cut back its employee levels, the company had been doing well on the financial growth side. Revenues grew 30% in 2005, for example, from $42.7 million in 2004 to $55.6 million. Employee levels had been growing too, from 180 in 2004 to more than 230 at its high point last year. But with the housing downturn, Kimal currently has about 150 employees.
While growing, Bavry tried to implement an employee culture he didn't see at his previous companies. With the help of a consultant, Bavry, a nominee for the Review's 2007 Entrepreneur Award, came up with a program he calls institutionalized entrepreneurship. It's a way of letting line employees make decisions on the go without having to check with several levels of supervisors.
Bavry also spent time actively thinking about how a lumber company could do more to protect the environment. His first step was assisting in the design and planning of the Florida House.
Then, in 2004, the plans for the Kimal Events Center began to come together. Bavry, as well as the company's board of directors, reasoned that despite the high expense, the building would be a prize past just its environmental efficiency. It would also be an employee morale boost, a marketing tool and a showcase for clients.
Continuing a policy of not going into deep debt for any projects, the company built the complex over 18 months, paying for it on an as-built basis. The final product won a conservation award from Sarasota County and is registered with the U.S. Green Building Council for LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification, which it hopes to achieve in the next few months.
Bavry jokes - sort off - that someday the building will be so green it could be cooled with an ice cube and heated with a candle. While that's not happening yet, the building's features do include:
• A Duct Sox fabric air dispersion system in the air conditioning units, which eliminate condensation and inhibits bacteria and mold growth;
• Exterior walls built with Acoustiblock, a material used to block noise from the factory and truss plants that flank the office;
• A pond at the front of the property with tilapia, bass, a few turtles and the "occasional alligator," Kimal marketing executive Tom Geriak says. Bavry even paid to have the pond de-mucked before the building opened;
• Extra paneling in the walls and ceilings of the men's and women's restrooms, which makes them hurricane-protected;
• Paperless dry walls and non-chemical paints used throughout the construction;
• High efficiency light bulbs and energy star appliances for the company kitchen and other areas.
The building has at least a dozen more green features. It's enough for the company to have written the book on it, literally, as it does by providing a 14-page pamphlet on the building for visitors. Says Geriak: "We took this building as far as we could."
Business. Kimal Lumber, Kimal Event Center, Venice
Key. Company built a new office and design center using several environmentally friendly building concepts.