Kevin Stephens--president of a landscape, interior and urban design firm--splits his time between his homes in San Francisco and Tulsa, where his company has offices. He hesitates to draw comparisons between his two hometowns when it comes to discussing how residents have embraced the concept of sustainable living, but he can't help but note that the issue is not a part of everyday life in Tulsa as it is on the coast.
In San Francisco, he said, his trash is weighed, and he is charged by the pound for everything he throws away.
"That forces you to think, 'Is this recyclable? Is this compostable?' " he said.
On the other hand, in Tulsa, he said, he has to pay for a curbside recycling service that is unreliable.
"They'll pick up a couch that somebody dumped across the street, but they won't pick up my bag of cans," he said.
Those instances frustrate Stephens, the president of the Kevin Stephens Design Group, who insists a shift to more sustainable living practices can be achieved with little effort.
"It's not difficult," he said. "You just think about it and adjust your habits."
As part of his effort to promote that way of thinking, Stephens--the owner of the former Temple Israel at S. 14th Street and Cheyenne Avenue--is donating the building and the land it sits on to a new organization that will build a regional center for conservation and sustainability. The project is a collaborative effort between Stephens, Land Legacy and Sustainable Tulsa.
Stephens said the center plans to accomplish its mission through education and action. Land Legacy--a Tulsa-based nonprofit organization that focuses on land conservation--will serve as the anchor tenant and manage the facility, which will feature a number of sustainable features such as solar power and rainwater collection systems. It will play host to presentations, lectures and workshops, and may feature a library. An organic garden is planned for the grounds.
It also will make office and meeting space available to smaller organizations involved in the local green effort, as well as house performance arts groups through Grace Ann Productions.
Stephens considers the presence of those arts groups vital to fulfilling the center's role of promoting sustainability, since those organizations will be putting the building to use at night and on weekends, making much better use of the facility and the resources required to operate it.
"We'll try to identify arts groups doing really great things that don't have a home," he said.
But primarily, he said, the center will serve as a place where individuals can learn to distance themselves from a lifestyle of greater and greater consumption.
"What can I do on a daily basis at home or the office to live more sustainably?" Stephens said, describing the mission of the center.
The partners in the project introduced their plans in a public presentation the night of Dec. 7. The center is still a long way from becoming a reality, but it already is attracting strong support.
"I think it would greatly improve the communication between different groups," said Corey Williams, the executive director of Sustainable Tulsa, which she said is playing an advisory role in the creation of the center and which has also received an invitation to locate its offices in the center. "We could pool our resources, help each other and advocate for different programs and missions. I think that would be great and help identify the strengths of the green movement in Tulsa. And I think we'd probably be more effective."
There are some hurdles to overcome. Stephens said he bought the building in 2008 when it was in good condition, and he intended to seek a listing for it on the National Register of Historic Places. But last January, much of the structure--the first Jewish temple in Oklahoma--burned, destroying much of the architectural detail and derailing those plans to seek historic status.
"That was a real downer in the first 48 hours, but then we opened our eyes and said this opens the opportunity for us to do a lot of other things," Stephens said.
A subsequent examination of the building revealed the presence of crystalline, a component of asbestos. Stephens said the Environmental Protection Agency is conducting a study of the building to determine what sort of abatement procedure is necessary, a process he hopes is complete by January.
At that point, a clean-up of the site can begin, and Stephens will bring in a structural engineer to help determine how much of the exterior can be saved and what needs to be restored.
"The history of that building is worth preserving," he said.
At that point, Stephens said, he expects things to move into high gear, with a budget being established and a capital campaign beginning.
"We've got about $2 million in land and professional services donated, but we haven't asked any foundations for money," he said, though he indicated several of them already have expressed interest in the center.
If all goes well, Stephens hopes to see the project completed within two years.
Williams said she didn't know when her organization might make a decision about whether to move its headquarters to the Temple.
"The idea is still unfolding, but we love the vision, and we're excited about it," she said.
Regardless of whether Sustainable Tulsa ultimately is housed under the center's roof, Stephens is a fan of the organization and noted that its recently released 2010 Green Directory--a survey of local companies and organizations involved in the sustainability movement--is three times as thick as it was last year. That's proof, he said, of the growing momentum of the green effort here.
"I'm motivated to do (this) because there are already a lot of smaller groups doing good things here, and I feel like their synergy could be greater if they have a place to coordinate and share resources," he said.
Stephens said he has no doubts the center will become a reality.
"I guess I'm the front man for it, but I have to tell you the reason I think all this is easily achievable is there are a lot of great people here already doing really great things," he said.
Share this article: