Building Leadership

by Carolyn Chase


n an era of overwhelming cynicism about government, it's worthwhile to take note when a municipality demonstrates leadership that works. On April 20th, Mayor Susan Golding and Environmental Services Director Richard L. Hays accepted the nation's first Energy Star certification for a building from the U.S. Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Agency.

The Energy Star label is awarded to distinguish commercial and public buildings that have energy performance and indoor environmental conditions that are among the top 25 percent nationwide. The City of San Diego's Environmental Services Building, on Ridgehaven Court in Kearny Mesa, exceeded that standard and scored in the top ten percent. According to one of the partners in the project, San Diego Gas & Electric, Ridgehaven is one of the lowest of all energy users in the county.

Private builders take note: you can do this, too. Help the environment and increase your competitive edge. Completed in 1996, it's sad that there are so few other examples in the region.

Efficiency investments in this one project add up to savings of $800,000 over ten years. During that time, the 73,000 square-foot Ridgehaven Building will also keep an estimated 3,530 tons of carbon dioxide, ten tons of sulfur dioxide, and nine tons of nitrogen oxides from being released into the atmosphere. These greenhouse gases directly contribute to the three major environmental problems: acid rain, smog and global climate change.

"The vision of Mayor Susan Golding and the Environmental
Services Department was to provide staff with an
environmentally-sound workplace while providing the city as a whole with a model for this day and age," said Department
Director Richard L. Hays. "The real struggle was to bring these
lofty goals into conformance with an ever-pressured municipal budget."

Built in 1982, the Kearny Mesa building was purchased to replace a leased facility that housed 160 Environmental Services employees. Nothing about the three-story office building looks particularly unusual. The commercial structure typifies developments with cheaper materials and systems taking precedence over long-term operating and maintenance expenses. By taking sustainable development concepts seriously this building is now a model of what can be achieved even in the most difficult project planning environment.

Ridgehaven energy efficiency measures and environmental
enhancements included:

  • Selecting construction materials that have substantial recycled content, and are recyclable themselves. Virgin materials used, such as lumber, had to be derived from sustainable or renewable sources. Contractors were required to show receipts documenting the reuse or recycling of materials removed from the building during remodeling.
  • Using construction materials that are non-toxic and non-carcinogenic. Materials also will minimize volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions and growth of mold, mildew and bacteria.
  • Reusing existing partitions, doors and other products to the greatest extent practical.
  • Addition of high performance reflective window film.
  • Sophisticated lighting control systems, including occupancy sensors for each room, daylight saving sensors in perimeter rooms with exterior windows, light level maintenance control devices in core areas not subjected to daylight, and energy-efficient task lighting at workstations to reduce the general area lighting requirement in the open-office environment.
  • Replacement of 70 water-source heat pumps used for heating, ventilating and air conditioning (HVAC) with 75 high-efficiency units that improve energy efficiency by 32 percent over the current industry standard.
  • New radial fiberglass cooling towers that use two-speed, five-horsepower fan motors instead of the original 15-hp motors
  • Modifying the HVAC system to provide high-quality indoor air, prevent the growth and transmission of molds and bacteria, and minimize the circulation of VOCs.
  • Direct digital control for HVAC to optimize equipment performance.
  • Room occupancy sensors, electronic dimming ballasts, parabolic fixtures with reflectors, daylight sensors in perimeter rooms.
  • Variable speed condenser water pumps.
  • Water conservation through purchase of efficient fixtures, waterless urinals and motion sensor faucets, all of which have reduced water consumption by 45%.

During the renovation, more than 41 tons of metal and other materials were recycled, saving hundreds of dollars in landfill fees and conserving those resources. The most impressive financial return has resulted from energy conservation. When the project began the building consumed 1,518,000 Kilowatt-hours annually at a cost of $145,000. After two years of operation, consumption dropped to 587,000 kWh at a cost of $56,000, giving a savings of $89,000. A sister building nearby, with a virtually identical exterior, but no "green" renovation, pays nearly double the green building.

"This project proves that any city could have green buildings
on a limited budget," emphasizes Alison M. Whitelaw, AIA,
principal architect, Platt/Whitelaw Architects, Inc., San Diego.

The City - and consequently, us taxpayers - are now realizing significant operational savings through lower utility bills and lower long term equipment and maintenance costs. City employees are enjoying a healthier workplace with improved air quality, and our planet is a little better off. All of this was done at a cost significantly lower than the cost of building a new facility that would have only met the minimum code requirements.

Going green was not without it's stumbling blocks. When attending public hearings and meetings to support the project years ago, I still remember Council member Barbara Warden was the lead opponent. Over the years, I have consistently seen her grill or oppose just about everything attempting to improve environmental practices and I recall her as being particularly shrill against this project. Fortunately, Mayor Golding and SDG&E helped convince Warden that the department was not trying to build a palace, but an energy efficient, environmentally-friendly office building that would lead to the success story we can report today.

Green building measures adopted during design, construction or renovation can result in significant operational savings as well as increases in employee productivity. The City is now pursuing plans to retrofit four other city facilities: the World Trade Center, the Central Library, the Crabtree Building and Pump Station #2. They have also begun preliminary energy audits on 20 city buildings targeted for energy improvements.

Because of the City Council's recalcitrance at mandating anything - even good stuff - the City instituted a voluntary Green Building Policy. Too bad they are unwilling even to mandate things that save taxpayers money! Because it's voluntary, it actually requires more leadership to move foward something that should be a priority, based on its merits alone. It sure is odd how that works. Considering that City facilities currently total some 4.4 million square feet, they have a fertile field in which to continue showing leadership.