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Going green in the Windy City

By ERIN WOOD MILLER ’09

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Testa Produce’s new distribution center features a 7,600-square-foot freezer, 24,700 square feet of cooler space, and about 39,000 square feet of warehouse space. Located about 15 minutes from the Chicago Loop, Testa Produce delivers as far south as Champaign and as far north as Green Bay. Photo courtesy McShane Fleming Photos.

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Designed by Roofmeadow, Testa Produce’s green roof collects rainwater that is reused for non-potable purposes throughout the building, such as flushing toilets

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Visit testaproduce.com for more information and photos.

Juxtaposed against the Chicago skyline, a 238-foot-tall, freestanding wind turbine stands out among the highway traffic, warehouses, and parking lots. It’s a sight that’s becoming more common in rural Illinois, but it’s a first for the Windy City.

Located near the entrance of Testa Produce’s new state-of-the-art distribution center in the Chicago Stockyards Industrial Park, the 24-story wind turbine is expected to generate up to 1 million kilowatt hours of zero-emissions energy per year — enough to supply up to 30 percent of the 91,000-square-foot facility’s energy needs and reducing energy bills from about $300,000 to $100,000 per year.

It’s just one of the many steps the national distributor of fruits and vegetables took in going green. TIM STOECKEL ’00 of Summit Design + Build led construction as project manager down to the last detail, ensuring that Testa Produce would become one of Chicago’s first LEED Platinum Certified buildings and the nation’s first food service distribution facility to gain LEED platinum certification, the highest rating available from the U.S. Green Building Council.

“There’s not much we didn’t do. Just about everything that could be done was done,” Stoeckel said. “The president and CEO of the company, Peter Testa, came up with all sorts of ways to try to reduce energy consumption and also generate energy on site, and it was my job to make sure all his crazy ideas were made possible.”

Some of the ideas that became reality include a rain detention pond that holds more than 765,000 gallons of water, a solar hot water system, 72 solar panels on the building’s rear docks, nine solar trees including 108 solar panels with battery systems to charge employees’ cars (fuel-efficient cars are rewarded with parking spaces close to the building’s entrance), LED and motion sensor lighting throughout the building, and a 45,650-square-foot barrel green roof with more than one acre of vegetation.

The green roof, which increases water conservation by preventing runoff, releases oxygen, and insulates the building, has garnered national media attention. “Many buildings in Chicago have green roofs, but not too many people know they are there. We made ours so passersby can see it from the street,” Stoeckel said. “Structurally, the sloped shape was not easy, but we wanted it to be visible and to set an example. We hope people will see it while driving by and say, ‘If they can do it, we can do it.’”

Feeling crowded in its original building near the University of Illinois, Chicago, where residential construction had taken off, Testa Produce considered a move to Wisconsin several years ago. However, a good deal on land from the city and Peter Testa’s desire to keep the third-generation company in Chicago convinced him to stay. Testa Produce broke ground on its new site in September 2009, and employees moved into the completed facility in March 2011.

Testa Produce is not only leading the way in reducing and creating energy, but also in reusing and recycling. Builders reused granite pavers found on the site for creating sidewalks and old concrete for making the base of the new concrete. About 85 percent of construction waste was recycled, and all of Testa’s paper, plastic, and cardboard used in the facility on a daily basis is recycled to reach 95 percent recycling capacity.

Testa Produce employees who drive electric cars can charge them at these solar power charging stations.

“Testa believes in being green,” Stoeckel said. “My client is concerned about us as a country and about our reliance on others for our energy. He wants all of us to self produce and not rely on others. It’s good from an environmental, political, and economical standpoint.”

Stoeckel, who was president of Bradley’s Associated General Contractors club and a member of Sigma Nu fraternity at Bradley, said BURL GEORGE ’83 stands out as his most influential civil engineering and construction professor. “He’s a legend. He had a practical approach to education. He worked in construction, so he would tie our lessons to real-life stories to reinforce the lesson.”

Stoeckel and his wife KATHLEEN KUENN STOECKEL ’99 have two children and live in Arlington Heights.