Although the two buildings opened on the same day in 2004, only the library initially went for LEED certification, in part due to the financial challenges of sustainably retrofitting a century-old train station. The library achieved LEED Silver certification initially, but it was recertified LEED Platinum in 2007—an effort aided by the addition of a green roof that provides insulation and captures rainwater. The building also has more than 300 solar panels and bamboo flooring, and it was built with responsibly sourced materials. It also got a LEED point for the trolley that stops at the campus. In 2014 the building was recertified LEED Platinum.
On the first floor of the library, visitors can view the presidential limousine (and also buy miniature models of it, although a larger gift shop is located a five-minute walk into the downtown, part of the effort to revitalize the area). On the second floor, after watching a short video starring Clinton, visitors can sit in a recreation of the Cabinet Room and then wander among “alcove exhibits” on topics like the economy and foreign affairs. On the third floor, a roped-off replica of the Oval Office awaits, along with artifacts from state dinners, gifts given to the president (including Michael Jordan’s present of … a statue of Michael Jordan), and gallery space for special exhibitions like one on presidential pets.
Above all this sits Clinton’s executive suite, an apartment where the former president stays when he visits Little Rock—about once a month, Rutherford says. Partly for security reasons, and partly to protect Clinton’s privacy, Rutherford won’t allow the interior of the suite to be photographed, or even described in the media. But the apartment opens out onto the building’s green roof, and students sometimes see Clinton step outside for fresh air.
On one side of the roof, a practice putting green is surrounded by blueberries and yellow roses, the favorite flower of Clinton’s mother. On the other, a boardwalk winds through a garden of regional plants, as well as wind chimes and a solar-powered pipe organ. The roof is only four stories up, but in Little Rock, that’s high enough to provide a fairly spectacular view—of the grounds and river below, and of the small-city skyline just across the interstate.
Choctaw Station may be more than a century older than the library, but its LEED plaque is a few years newer. Spurred by a federal stimulus grant, the school and the foundation transformed the historic building into a LEED Gold facility, installing features like low-flow toilets and waterless urinals, motion sensors for lights, and a highly efficient heating and cooling system. They also ramped up recycling at the building and implemented a green cleaning program. The changes have helped reduce energy costs at the building by around 50 percent, Rutherford says.
The building—which was once a stop on the Rock Island Railroad, but later housed a restaurant, church, and nightclub at various times—is the only remnant of the campus’s bad old days as a dumping ground (aside from a former railroad bridge crossing the river that opened to the public as a pedestrian bridge in 2011). Original details like exposed wooden beams and a tin ceiling have been preserved, but the former “Colored” and “VIP” waiting rooms have been transformed into nearly identical teaching spaces. The open-air porch at the back of the building, where passengers once boarded their trains, has been enclosed in glass to create day-lit office space.
The combination of the newer LEED Platinum library and the historic LEED Gold former train station, together with the adjacent LEED Platinum headquarters of the charity Heifer International, has turned the once-desolate area into a cluster of sustainable development, where architects come to tour the buildings and take away ideas to implement on their own projects. In particular, Rutherford says, the greening of Choctaw Station shows that it’s possible for even older buildings with development restrictions to be made energy efficient.
“We have a lot of people come through the building and say, ‘How did you do it?’” Rutherford says. “And I say, ‘When you have requirements based on historic preservation, and you have needs based on the environment, and you sit down and talk, you’d be surprised about what you can agree on.’”
“We’ve turned this place into an environmental showcase,” he adds. “It is a combination of the old and the new, and it shows that historic preservation, higher education, economic development, and concern for the environment can all work together.”
A tad ironically, it is the newer library that houses the memories of Clinton’s past, while the older Choctaw provides space to the students and foundation staff who will carry the former president’s legacy on into the future. The Clinton Foundation does extensive work combating climate change, and the Clinton School attracts a number of students interested in working on environmental issues—enough of them that Rutherford uses the building’s LEED Gold rating as a “recruiting tool.”
Maddy Salzman and Austin Harrison, two first-year students at the Clinton School, are part of a group working to research and develop recommendations about energy-saving measures that also reduce asthma