A new building in Athens is turning heads and drawing crowds.
"A hobbit house, maybe," says Jenny Ewing as she laughs.
It looks like it belongs on a movie set, but the earth-sheltered building serves a more practical purpose. Made mostly of recycled materials it's the new office of Keep McMinn Beautiful, a volunteer-driven organization, around since 1990, educating the public about being environmentally conscious.
Director Jessica Proffitt thinks it's a perfect fit.
"Keep McMinn Beautiful--it's always been earth-friendly, environmentally-friendly. So it made sense to have a building that's going to be the least impactive on the environment," explains Proffitt.
Made possible through a grant from the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC), the building is solar-powered and made of a material called Colfibrex. It's water resistant, mold resistant, and very energy-efficient. It's design makes for a great tornado shelter, too.
There are others that look similarbut are made of concrete or other materials. But this building is the first recycled Colfibrex building in the U.S.
Located next to the city's recycling center, Proffitt hopes to peak everyone's curiosity and use the opportunity as a teaching experience.
"When people come and drop off we can say look at what we're saving here. This cardboard, we're going to reuse it again, or this plastic," says Proffitt.
Jenny and Ward Ewing's home is geo-thermally powered. They got a first-time look at the Keep McMinn Beautiful building Thursday.
"Really impressed. I think it's really cool," says Jenny.
"It's very neat," adds Ward. "I love the fact that it's off the grid and they're using solar power only."
The project is part of a city-wide move toward clean energy. Other grant money goes toward four solar generators to be placed around town, saving tens of thousands of dollars a year according to public works director Shawn Lindsey.
"Anytime we save the tax payers money it helps them at home," says Lindsey.
He hopes the impact of the building is re-used over and over.
"All the future generations that are inspired by it, that look for other ways to save themselves money and save our natural resources," says Lindsey.
The building is open to the public and for all ages. Inside you'll find materials and video kiosks with information about conservation, sustainable living, recycling "Dos and Don'ts", and more. Stop in on your next recycling trip, or to arrange a tour ahead of time contact the Athens Public Works Department.
Also check out the Facebook page for Keep McMinn Beautiful for updates about events and activities.