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September 20, 2011 | On Monday, August 15, about 130 staff who used to show up for work at Foothills Lab 4 headed across the street to the Anthes Building (FLA), where they entered a fully “green” building that features advanced energy efficiency technologies with long-term costs savings to boot. It also boasts comfortable offices, great natural lighting, spacious break areas, and indoor bike storage.
UCAR purchased the 53,783-square-foot office building at 3375 Mitchell Lane—formerly the corporate headquarters of Wild Oats—in 2009. In October 2010, the UCAR Board of Trustees named it the Anthes Building after UCAR president Rick Anthes. RAL will make its permanent home there in 2012 after the present occupants move back into FL4, which is currently under its own remodel (see bottom, “FL4 gets a makeover, too”).
The FLA remodel, which began last fall, is set to earn a LEED rating of Gold or perhaps even Platinum—the highest possible—from the U.S. Green Building Council. (The final decision won’t be clear for another few months until all the documentation has been reviewed by the USGBC.) LEED, which stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, is an internationally recognized green building certification system. It takes into account energy savings, water efficiency, carbon emissions reduction, improved indoor environmental quality, and stewardship of natural resources.
“This building is a great addition to the Foothills Lab campus and its acquisition was a cost-effective part of our long-range strategic space plan to meet the needs of NCAR and UCP,” says Rick. “I am really pleased that it is such a green and energy-efficient building, which is appropriate for a national center that does world-class research on weather and climate.”
Rick adds that while parts of NCAR and UCP have experienced budget shortfalls and staff cutbacks, overall the two entities have been growing since 1990. This growth requires more space, and owning is far less expensive in the long run than leasing (see graph, below, for the cost savings from purchasing and owning buildings rather than leasing space).
“UCAR’s purchase of buildings has resulted in a significant net savings to NCAR and UCP, and the savings is growing every year as the debt service is reduced,” Rick says. “Eventually UCAR will own the buildings and use them for only the cost of maintenance, with neither rent nor debt service.”
Renovating old buildings for a new world
FLA was constructed in 1980, with an addition built in 2000. Boulder has a lot of office building stock dating to the 1980s, according to David Pfeifer, lead architect on the Anthes Building for Denver-based Anderson Mason Dale Architects. Over the course of the last century, he says, the least efficient buildings were built between 1980 and 1995. Many of these structures have poor building envelopes, minimal insulation, and poor thermal mass that fails to insulate the interior from outdoor temperature fluctuations. In the next 25 years, renovating older buildings to make them more efficient will be a critical strategy in reducing energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.
“The Anthes Building could serve as a model of success for energy efficiency and sustainability when remodeling older, inefficient construction—and within a limited budget,” says Kimberly Kosmenko, UCAR’s sustainability program manager. A strong LEED rating is quite an honor, she adds. “It’s a major accomplishment for an existing building to earn LEED Platinum through a remodel, and LEED Gold is noteworthy as well.”
Currently, there are just 485 LEED Platinum projects nationally, with 10 in Colorado, according to the USGBC. As of mid-2011, a total of 3,975 buildings had been LEED certified nationally, with 109 of those in Colorado.
Not only was remodeling an existing building—as opposed to constructing a new one—an important sustainability strategy, it also gave UCAR the chance to create the ideal physical environment for carrying out scientific research on a day-by-day basis. When the Mesa Lab was built, for example, the guiding vision of how science was done influenced a design approach that encouraged researchers to perform their work in private, contemplative spaces. Today, the field is much more collaborative, with a need for shared spaces as well as more accommodation for technology.
From the ground to the sky: geothermal and photovoltaics
FLA features a geothermal (ground source) heating and cooling exchange system that reduces energy consumption by up to 36% compared to a typical office building. Geothermal systems draw on the relatively constant temperature of the ground below a building site (roughly 50°F in the Boulder area) in order to generate heat in winter and air conditioning in summer. The system sends fluid through a series of pipes and into boreholes that reach approximately 350 feet below ground to either absorb or throw off heat, depending upon the season. The fluid returns to a heat pump that generates room-temperature air in roughly the same way that a refrigerator produces cool air by discharging heat.
Although geothermal technology is well established, the expense of installation and the low cost of fossil fuels have kept its use limited until recently. However, there are many pluses to geothermal heat pumps. They produce as much as six times more power than they consume. Maintenance costs are also low, and the underground infrastructure is designed to last 50 years or more.
“Geothermal systems are becoming more common in Colorado as a way to reduce natural gas and electricity usage and the associated price volatility of those commodities,” says Matt McMullen, director of FMS.
In the other direction, solar panels now adorn the top of FLA. The 100-kilowatt array is capable of producing about 37% of the building’s electricity needs and 24% of the building’s total energy needs.
Because a not-for-profit entity such as UCAR is not eligible to benefit from federal tax credits for solar panel installation, UCAR has funded the photovoltaic array via a solar host lease agreement. These legal contracts between electricity generators and purchasers make it easier for customers to afford solar power because they do not have to pay upfront costs for equipment and installation; rather, they pay only for the electricity that the system generates. Thus, a third-party financing entity owns UCAR’s solar panels and sells the electricity back to UCAR at a set cost that’s just below current Xcel Energy’s costs. After seven years, UCAR will have the option to buy the system at a depreciated cost; upon purchase, the organization would receive the direct cost benefit of producing onsite power for sale to Xcel, along with offsetting greenhouse gas emissions.
“Financially, this is a great option for UCAR because we’re able to lock in the cost of electricity and save money starting from day one in the building,” says Kimberly. “We also reduce the need for electricity from coal-fired plants.”
Nuts and bolts
The reuse of an existing building along with a geothermal system and solar panels do the most to make the FLA remodel sustainable. A whole host of smaller features, however, contributes to the building’s efficiency as well as general comfort.
Daylight is harvested through existing windows and high-performance glazing that lets in daylight but reduces the transfer of heat. An intelligent lighting control system automatically brightens and dims lights by sensing how much light is present; it also controls the HVAC system.
“The building has a very fresh feel, and the natural lighting is good, even for internal offices without windows,” says Laura Curtis (OGA).
A highly efficient boiler and hot water heater were installed, along with water-saving strategies and plumbing that consume 40% less water. New insulation minimizes heat loss from the durable new roof, and all water pipes and ducts are insulated as well. The building’s smaller details feature highly energy-efficient technology: low-flow water fixtures, LED lighting in the parking garage, and low-water-use landscaping on the grounds.
Waste from the remodel was sent to recyclers, with very little ending up in the landfill, and the remodel used as much recycled content as possible. Most of the wood used in construction was certified by the Forest Stewardship Council as being harvested responsibly.
FLA’s new residents also found themselves breathing easy from the start. All paints and other products used in the remodel were low-VOC (volatile organic compound). Prior to occupation, the building’s ventilation system was run at a higher rate than normal over an extended period of time to flush air contaminants and provide a healthier space for occupants. And for staff seeking fresh air outside, the building’s indoor bike storage and two showers make FLA especially friendly to bike commuters and those hoping to squeeze in a workout during lunch.
The financial case for building green
UCAR completed the FLA renovation within the same budget that would be allocated for a conventional project of the same scope, and accomplished energy and water savings and improved indoor air quality without budgeting a cost premium for building green. Although the organization currently doesn’t have any metrics on the long-term savings from building green, it plans to monitor FLA through sub-metering and other methods to acquire more data and compare it to the organization’s non-LEED buildings. FMS has begun evaluating energy performance for all currently occupied buildings and plans to establish metrics for building performance over the next year (see "Staff weigh in on Sustainability Management Plan").
UCAR funded the FLA renovation with tax-exempt municipal bonds, a very favorable funding source that is lowest-cost financing available in the public sector. Overall, this is considered by far the most cost-effective solution to meeting the organization’s space needs.
The big move
The long-anticipated staff move from FL4 to FLA went smoothly, according to Hanne Mauriello (UCP Directorate), who credits FMS, SaSS, and FL4’s program move coordinators and systems administrators for a great job.
“We moved 10 programs, which required a lot of coordination. But we started planning early, back in April, and all staff were really engaged from the beginning,” she says. “And it helps that it’s such a beautiful building to move into.”
One of the move’s most notable results is that it’s broken up daily routines and mixed people and programs together in the hallways and break areas. “I’ve been seeing a lot of new faces around the halls, including people I never knew before,” says Michelle Flores (UCAR Governance).