Building projects go green

Dec 29, 2006

Marcus Green
The Courier Journal

The 111-year-old former warehouse that Gill Holland and his wife are renovating on East Market Street is a drafty, gutted building clearly showing its age.

Wind sneaks in through cracks in brick walls. A sloping roof outside a second-floor doorway is too precarious to walk on.

But Holland envisions big changes over the next two years that will transform the building into offices, meeting rooms and possibly a coffee shop.

It’s a makeover with an environmental twist — the roof will be blanketed in grass to reduce rainwater runoff and energy use, and solar cells will convert the sun’s rays into enough electricity to potentially supply all the building’s power.

The project is being designed to meet a national set of “green” building standards, from using recycled construction materials to installing water-saving plumbing and energy-efficient heating and cooling systems.

“We want to be putting energy back into the grid with this building,” Holland said.

The East Market development is one of two buildings seeking to become Louisville’s first projects certified by the U.S. Green Building Council, which developed the leading rating system for environmentally friendly construction in the United States.

Louisville’s other green project is the Transit Authority of River City’s $4 million maintenance annex behind Union Station on Broadway. A green roof and solar panels are being considered to lessen heating and cooling bills for that project, expected to begin next spring.

Also downtown, officials with the proposed $465 million Museum Plaza skyscraper and a $450 million arena complex say they plan to incorporate eco-friendly elements.

A commitment to a green design is “one of the key determining factors” being weighed by a Louisville Arena Authority committee that will choose an architect and construction manager for the arena at Second and Main streets, said Jim Host, the authority’s chairman.

That could include roof and window design as well as reducing water use, Host said. “We are very, very sensitive and want this to be as green as a building as we can (make it), as long as it doesn’t send the cost into orbit,” he said.

Kentucky lags behind

The green-building movement, stressing low water use, natural and recycled materials and renewable energy sources, has been slow to come to Kentucky.

Nationwide, the council has certified 622 projects under its standards, called Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED.

Only three projects are in Kentucky, including a Jewish Hospital medical center in Bullitt County.

“I think we’re behind the curve, which is not atypical for Kentucky in a lot of things,” said Jeff Moneypenny, a Louisville architect who is co-chairman of the state’s chapter of the Green Building Council.

Green projects can cost more to build — usually 1 percent to 5 percent, according to the council.

Developers generally recapture the added costs in the first two years of operation through lower utility and water bills, spokeswoman Taryn Holowka said.

Overall, 49 cities and 17 states require or encourage green building through laws, policies or incentives to developers, the council says.

Last week, Boston officials announced plans to require all large, privately built buildings to follow green guidelines.

In Louisville, the Partnership for a Green City, which was formed in 2004 by metro government, the University of Louisville and Jefferson County Public Schools, is considering whether new structures such as the city’s animal-services building can be constructed under the green design standards, said Allison Martin, a spokeswoman for Mayor Jerry Abramson.

Improved productivity

Green building advocates point to benefits such as better air quality, ventilation and natural lighting.

According to studies, those “definitely have an impact on employee productivity, employee retention, student learning patterns and that sort of thing,” said Sieglinde Kinne, an energy efficiency specialist with the Kentucky Pollution Prevention Center.

A 2003 report by the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative estimates that green buildings can increase productivity by 1 percent to 1.5 percent, or annual savings of $600 to $1,000 per employee.

The LEED system is the most comprehensive method for registering green buildings, Moneypenny said.

It was recently recognized as the most credible rating system for green building by the federal General Services Administration.

Critics argue that the group’s rigorous certification process focuses too much on getting approved rather than making the most environmentally friendly buildings possible.

But supporters say it indicates a building is “green” and could lead to benefits such as tax incentives offered for green projects in some areas.

Architect and builder Mark Isaacs said he doesn’t plan to register a 48-unit loft development at Campbell and Main streets with the council. His project is intended to be “zero carbon,” meaning that it will produce more energy than it consumes.

“In many ways we’re going a pretty significant cut above LEED in stretching for what is a zero-carbon goal,” Isaacs said.

But he is planning many of the same features.

Isaacs says his building will use solar panels for energy. Factoring in energy-efficient walls, roof and windows, he expects residents will see low electricity bills.

“That might end up being 20 bucks a month, in the larger homes 50 bucks a month,” he said.

“That’s the kind of goal we’re shooting for.”

Reusing materials

Holland is a film producer who is married to urban planner Augusta Holland, daughter of Brown-Forman Chairman Owsley Brown II and Louisville Stoneware owner Christy Brown. He envisions his 15,000-square-foot project at 732 E. Market fitting in nicely into the arts corridor, a neighborhood once known for stockyards and warehouses now populated with antique stores and art galleries.

It will blend office space with a multipurpose room for events, an art gallery and possibly a coffee shop, according to early plans.

The six-week demolition process took two to three times as long and cost about 50 percent more than under typical conditions.

Tim Peters of Peters Construction, the project’s general contractor, said that during the demolition, old mechanical systems, wiring and other metal were recycled. About 200 light fixtures that couldn’t be reused were donated to Habitat for Humanity. Doors, door jambs and other hardware that couldn’t be used were sold.

Pieces of wood removed during demolition sit in a stack on the first floor. The wood was cleaned and will be used during construction, which is scheduled to begin in March.

“Not only are we recycling the materials, we’re recycling them for different applications,” said Doug Pierson, the project’s California-based architect.

TARC building

For its project, TARC is considering solar panels, energy-efficient windows and a green roof to reduce energy costs for its federally funded building, which will house training rooms and offices along with a work area for cleaning the city’s bus fleet.

“We lower our operating costs if we go green,” said Geoffrey Hobin, TARC’s special projects manager. “We’re going to use much less energy in this building than typical construction would require.”

Reporter Marcus Green can be reached at (502) 582-4675.

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