New Prairie Construction is strongly committed to the continuing education of its employees. NPC employees have traveled the country to learn more about strawbale building, solar and wind energy, preservation and conservation, historic plastering techniques, the latest tools and technologies, and best practices in different aspects of remodeling. The company as a whole often takes trips together, sometimes just for fun and team building, sometimes with a continuing education aspect.
In July of 2008, the New Prairie crew took a long weekend in Pennsylvania to visit Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater. The trip included a little bit of everything you’d want from a summer vacation: hiking, golfing, swimming, white-water rafting, fabulous food, and good company. The highlight of the trip was the house that graced the cover of TIME magazine in 1938. It is often regarded as Wright’s most beautiful work.
Built between 1936 and 1939, Fallingwater was meant as a mountain retreat for the Edgar J. Kaufmann family of Pittsburgh, owner of the Kaufman Department Stores (now part of the Macy’s chain). The house was 5,330 square feet (including the guest cottage) and cost $155,000. Today it is a National Historic Landmark in the care of the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy. Its structural system includes a series of reinforced concrete cantilevered balconies, which make the house look as though it’s floating over a 30’ waterfall. Almost immediately after pouring, the balconies developed a noticeable droop due to inadequate reinforcement. A major structural repair in 2002 strengthened Fallingwater’s cantilevers to prevent further deflection.
Some members of NPC also went to visit Kentuck Knob,another Wright house not far from Fallingwater. Kentuck Knob was built in 1954 of tidewater red cypress and natural fieldstone, and features a sculpture garden. Wright tucked this Prairie style house into the side of the mountain, allowing it to blend harmoniously with its environment. It is known for its serene beauty and sense of comfort. New Prairie has also visited the Dana-Thomas House, a Wright home in Springfield, Illinois. Taliesin in Spring Green, Wisconsin next?
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Be sure to check out Champaign-Urbana's own At Home in Central Illinois for an in-depth look at one of New Prairie's recent "green" kitchen remodels. This bi-monthly publication features a regular “Green Living” section along with articles on life in Central Illinois. The March/April issue hits newsstands the first week of March.
GREENER LIVING EXPO
Mark your calendars for the News-Gazette’s “Greener Living Expo” on February 28, 2009. New Prairie will host a booth there alongside many other local businesses. Stay tuned to Lite Rock 97.5 WHMS, WDWS, the News Gazette, or At Home in Central Illinois magazine for more details.
In September 2008, New Prairie’s Urbana strawbale house was featured on “190 North,” an eclectic television program out of Chicago. The show featured eco-friendly products and ideas. You can watch the piece on their website by clicking on the "Info" button and choosing the September 14, 2008 show.
We will soon be completing Phases 1-3 of the historic restoration/addition of the 1874 Victorian Italianate in east Illinois. Phase 1 restored the outer building, including the porch, corbels, shutters, cupola, and brickwork. In phase 2, we tackled the interior, refurbishing the plaster walls and ceilings, the ornate trim work, and the fireplace mantels. Phase 3 saw the addition of a new basement, kitchen, and great room off the back of the original house. In the spring, Phase 4 will add a master bedroom suite to the new addition and the property will be landscaped. Visit our website to see pictures from all the phases to date.
New Prairie Construction is pleased to be starting work on the Orpheum Children's Science Museum once again! In 2000, we were privileged to renovate the vestibule, lobby, and mezzanine areas of the building. Part of the renovation process involved restoring the crumbling plaster moldings on the ceiling. NPC will now renovate the auditorium of the once-famous vaudeville theater.
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Giving back to the community is important to New Prairie. Every year, the staff runs a carpentry booth during the Children's Building Fair at the Orpheum Children's Science Museum. We also donate regularly to PACA and to Habitat for Humanity’s Restore.
Co-owner Julie Birdwell enjoys giving talks about sustainable building practices and sharing her expertise as a woman in the trades. 2008 was no exception: she spoke to many groups and graciously opened up her home to those wanting to know more about straw bale building. She also lectured at the U of I's ISTC's (Illinois Sustainable Technology Center) Sustainability Seminar Series. You can listen to this and other lectures on sustainable building at the ISTC website.
In September, NPC hosted a straw bale construction booth at Westview Elementary School's Environmental Fair. The kids got to try their hands at plastering a bale wall with clay plaster – a messy, enjoyable process! The school raised funds for much-needed new technology.
Our largest community project this year began in the fall of 2007. The Center for Women in Transition (CWT), in partnership with New Prairie and local Presbyterian churches, began a complete overhaul of a small home that will be made available to four single women as temporary housing. This is Central Illinois' first single women's shelter. It was completed in December of 2008.
When looking for volunteer work, owners Julie Birdwell and Jill Mulder (affectionately known as Big Chief and Chicken Boss) try to find situations in which New Prairie’s expertise will be of the most benefit. For the CWT house project, New Prairie was able to help navigate the permit and inspection process, schedule with subcontractors, organize timelines, oversee volunteers, and provide professional carpenters for some of the work.
According to their literature, the Center for Women in Transition "is a nonprofit homeless shelter in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois, that offers support services and safe transitional housing to disadvantaged women and their children." Since its doors opened in June, 1985, it has served over 3000 women and children. In 2006, they were presented with the Governor’s Hometown award for their ability to inspire volunteerism and social change. You can get in touch with them at 508 East Church St. Champaign, IL 61820, (217)352-7151, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information about New Prairie’s commitment to community involvement, visit our Community Work webpage.
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According to the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) website: * Ingestion of dust contaminated by lead paint is the most common cause of
lead poisoning in children.
* In children, low levels of lead poisoning cause intelligence deficiencies,
learning disabilities, reduced attention span, and behavior problems. Even
children who seem healthy can have high levels of lead in their bodies.
* In adults, lead poisoning can cause hypertension and can harm reproductive,
nerve, and brain function.
* People have options for reducing lead hazards. In most cases, lead-based
paint that is in good condition is not a hazard.
* Removing lead-based paint improperly can increase the danger to your
Because New Prairie often remodels older homes, our company has always recognized the hazards of lead. To protect their own health and the health of their customers, owners Julie Birdwell and Jill Mulder became certified as Lead Abatement Supervisors in 2001. In 2005, four of their employees were certified, and they took the required refresher course in 2008. As courses become more available, more of the New Prairie crew will be certified as supervisors.
New legislation in place at the EPA will require any contractors disturbing lead-based paint in homes, childcare facilities, or schools to obtain EPA certification by 2010. This will include all structures built before 1978. According to an article in the January 2008 issue of Fine Homebuilding, the federal regulation requires "certification for renovation or repair work that disturbs 6 sq. ft. inside or 20 sq. ft. outside a home where children younger than 6 years old live or visit regularly.” Lead information pamphlets titled “Renovate Right: Important Lead Hazard Information for Families, Child Care Providers, and Schools” must be given to homeowners beginning in December, 2008. You can obtain additional information at www.epa.gov/lead.