New hotel to coddle guests and the environment

by Amy Kingsley

Sustainability has been a part of Dennis Quaintance’s consciousness since he celebrated the first Earth Day as a lad in Darby, Mont. in 1970.

His awareness grew out of his surroundings – thick Montana forests where the balance of nature could be tipped by something as small as a beetle.

“Folks who were not really political saw that we were doing some things,” Quaintance said. “The industrial revolution has had a big impact on the environment. Some people thought we could do things to make the experiment a little less risky.”

The Westerner has lived in North Carolina since 1978. He is one of the principals of the Quaintance-Weaver family of hotels and restaurants, which includes the O. Henry Hotel, Green Valley Grill and Lucky 32.

That family will soon expand to include the Proximity Hotel, a stylish, 147-room manifestation of Quaintance’s conservationist impulses. The Proximity, a riff on Greensboro’s old Proximity Mill, will join one of a handful of hotels nationwide that are LEED certified by the US Green Building Council. The company broke ground on the Proximity Hotel last fall and expects to open for business by summer.

LEED, which stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, is the gold standard for certification of environmentally conscious construction. Builders can pursue one of four different qualification levels that range from certification to platinum certification. Quaintance says his company is seeking gold certification for the Proximity Hotel.

“Once we decided we were going to have a sustainable model,” Quaintance said, “we had to look for one. LEED was just a great model.”

Builders seeking LEED certification choose from a number of features designed to lessen a structure’s impact on the environment.

“It’s like picking off a Chinese menu,” Quaintance said.

The US Green Building Council provides a list of efficient features that builders can mix-and-match to comply with certification requirements. Each features is assigned a certain point value.

Lea Thompson, special projects coordinator for Quaintance-Weaver and the person tasked with reviewing their documentation, said the project has been more work than traditional construction. Contractors and designers involved in the project must submit reports before and during construction, and inspectors from the green building council will inspect the finished product before awarding certification, she said.

Among other energy-saving features, the Proximity will have elevators that generate energy when they descend and a rooftop full of solar panels for heating water. Four percent of the building will consist of recycled fly ash, one of the waste products from coal-fired power plants. The company will also restore a nearby stream damaged by development.

The hotel’s gardens will be nourished with non-potable water – a conservation method with which Quaintance has a little personal experience.

“During the water crisis about four years ago,” he said, “my wife and I would surround ourselves with buckets when we showered.”

They took the collected water and used it to keep their plants alive. He said he subscribes to the notion that a prosperous life does not have to be an excessive or wasteful one.

“You don’t have to be some kind of owl-hugging nut to realize there are some things you can do,” he said.

Although the Proximity Hotel is the largest sustainable project Quaintance has undertaken, his existing restaurants have programs to buy produce and other supplies from local producers, a move that saves fuel for shipping and promotes organic farming.

“Our journey on our sustainable path is about ten miles long,” Quaintance said. “And we’re about three miles into it. We are not satisfied with where we’re at right now, but I think that dissatisfaction is the sign of a healthy company.”

Another sign of a healthy company is the support the project has gotten from employees, Quaintance said.

Thompson, one of those employees, said she agreed with that assessment.

“Absolutely every single person involved has been really enthusiastic about this project,” she said.

The community has also lined up in support of the company, Quaintance said.

“Actually I’ve been startled by it,” he said. “I thought we’d get a lot more furrowed brows and people asking, ‘Why are you doing this if nobody else is doing it?’ Instead, people have been thanking me.”

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