Susie Kubiak and husband mark, on right, stand with architect Bruce Millard as they display the 2014 Grow Smart Award they recently received from the Idaho Smart Growth in the small community category for their work at the Heartwood Center in Sandpoint


Heartwood reels in Smart Growth Award
Center recognized for positive community impact

By DAVID GUNTER Feature correspondent

SANDPOINT – Since 2005, the non-profit organization Idaho Smart Growth has presented its Grow Smart Award to municipalities and individual projects, recognizing them for the part they play in creating vibrant communities. This year, the Heartwood Center was presented with the award in the small community category. The volunteer jury of planners, architects and finance professionals that waded through the applicants apparently was taken with what the center has accomplished, since it splashed its picture across the  cover and gave it a two-page spread squarely in the very middle of the program. Architect Bruce Millard of the Studio of Sustainable Design, who drew up the plans for the Heartwood Center’s transformation from historic Catholic church to downtown gathering space, said the award criteria were stringent.

“It has a lot to do with their philosophy as an organization,” he explained. “They’re really promoting smart growth in relationship to smart building.” Among the characteristics considered by the jury were areas such as how the various projects tied into creating easy to navigate neighborhoods, land use decisions and green building practices. The Heartwood Center excelled on every front.

“As it turned out, we met all of the criteria for what you can do to make a more livable environment,” said Millard, listing things such as the way the project saved an old building, maximized energy efficiency and utilized its downtown location right on a busy bike route as attributes that got the judges’ attention. Originally constructed in 1907, the former St. Joseph’s Catholic Church building now straddles the downtown core and surrounding residential areas. It turned out to be a prime spot, the architect agreed, but in actuality, this part of town grew up around the church.“The existing location has worked well for more than 100 years,” he said. “But in the early photographs, there is no residential neighborhood – there’s only the church.”

Heartwood Center owners Susie and Mark Kubiak purchased the square block of property and the vacant brick buildings that anchor it in December of 2011. The next two-and-a-half years were spent bringing the classic structure up to modern standards, while maintaining its architectural integrity and historical significance. The result of their investment was finally unveiled when the center opened this past spring. “The physical footprint for what we wanted to do was already here,” said Millard, noting that the owners’ intent was always to maintain the character of the heavily treed corner.

Susie Kubiak called it part of “the whole package” that attracted the couple to the property. “This street has such great trees and I wanted to preserve that park-like feel,” she said. “That’s where the name Heartwood came from.” Apart from the iconic red brick exterior of the church building – which also underwent extensive repair – the rest of the project involved a complete interior modernization, including electrical, plumbing, HVAC and fire suppression systems. As part of the top to bottom restoration, the building received a new roof and foundation upgrades. Along with high-efficiency heating and cooling, Heartwood Center went even greener by adding heat pumps, LED lighting and insulation throughout the historic building.

“We also have on-site storm water management with rain gardens that collect water off the parking lot and roofs and filter it before it ever goes into the city storm water system,” Susie Kubiak said.“Ninety-seven percent of the water that falls on impervious surfaces goes through those gardens,” Millard added. “So, immediately, we’re having a great impact by putting less water into the city’s system.”

Jeremy Grimm, planning and community development director for the City of Sandpoint, was on the awards jury, but recused himself from the selection process. He is, however, quoted prominently in the Grow Smart Award listing for the center.“The resulting remodel of the facility provides a stunning example which leaves both visitors and passerby breathless and in awe of the transformation of both the natural space and the physical structure,” the quote reads.
Working alongside Millard on the award-winning project were landscape architect Karen Olson, interior designer Marti Kellogg of Siteline Design, and contractor Jim Dustman of Dustman Enterprises. The overall vision, meanwhile, was provided by the Kubiaks.

The architect – who in 2005 was the recipient of one of the inaugural Grow Smart Awards for his green building design work at the Park Cottages in Sandpoint – captured the essence of that vision in his award application.“The renovation of this abandoned church was a need that a local couple took on, not just for themselves, but for the whole community,” Millard wrote. “Their desires were personal: ‘To save the building from demolition, to save the trees and save the feeling and history of this community building for the future residents of Sandpoint.’” Though heart-based, the restoration of the Heartwood Center also makes good economic sense, according to the architect, who compared its potential to that of the Panida Theater.“The Panida is a great example of how you can impact the community,” he said. “But we’re different, because the theater is pretty much a one-venue format. What the Heartwood Center can achieve is a lot of little things – and it can make money for the community.“I look at it as a community asset that allows space for more activities.”

The Heartwood Center is located at 615 Oak St. For more information, visit them online at:

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