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Courthouse gets a green thumbs up for its efficiency.

Byline: Bill Bishop The Register-Guard

Beneath the curving skin of Eugene's new federal courthouse, the unheralded nuts and unglamorous bolts of the building's inner life aspire to something beyond its destiny as an architectural landmark.

The under-floor heating and cooling system, the adhesives, the paint, the manner in which it is built and other features will earn the building a certification for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design from the U.S. Green Building Council.

Although the courthouse won't garner the highest LEED ranking, its status as a centerpiece to downtown will send a strong message that public agencies from the federal government to the city of Eugene are strongly behind energy efficiency, sustainable building practices and better-quality indoor environments, local leaders say.

"The courthouse will be a really good example because it is such a high-profile building," says Scott Stolarczyk, a Eugene architect and president of the local chapter of the American Institute of Architects. "It may not be the greenest building out there. It is a good example of showing you can do almost anything with a building and still have some good environmental qualities about it."

Since the U.S. Green Building Council kicked off its LEED program about five years ago, sustainable building practices have taken the design and building trades by storm. So much so that claims of "green" building techniques and products are increasingly overstated, Stolarczyk says.

"Everyone wants a piece of it. Everyone wants to sell a green product," he says.

That's where the LEED certification process comes in.

The building council reviews "green" buildings on a point-by-point basis, awarding credit for very specific technical aspects of site development, water and energy efficiency, materials, indoor environment and innovation. Based on points earned, a building may merit a status of certified, silver, gold or - the highest LEED rating - platinum.

Courthouse builders believe they will rate about 32 points on the LEED scale, enough for certification, but two points shy of the silver level. Since the rating can't be determined until the building is finished and the extensive LEED review completed, they're holding out hope for silver, says Alan Halleck, project manager for the general contractor, JE Dunn Construction.

The courthouse project fits right in with the city's growing commitment to green construction, says Jan Bohman, the city's community relations manager.

Late in the past century, the City Council established policies to promote sustainable practices, with orders to the staff to lead by example. The city's building department now draws local expertise from its Green Building Advisory Group to better prepare the permitting process for green building designs, Bohman notes.

Mayor Kitty Piercy's Sustainable Business Initiative looks at green industries as a sector ripe for local economic development efforts, Bohman adds.

The city this summer kicked off an initiative to promote green building by offering support and incentives to three private developments that will emphasize efficient design and sustainable practices.

"It's very encouraging to see there are advocates within the city who want to see the green building movement propel forward," says Stolarczyk, who is involved in one of the green projects. He says the initiative encourages city staff to be more involved in brainstorming and quicker to respond to questions about how the green project's design fits city rules.

"The community, and the city, are looking at all kinds of ways to go for a more sustainable future," Bohman says. "When a well-known building pursues LEED certification, it gets more people interested. It sets an example that sustainability is something we're interested in pursuing in this community."

Courthouse designers were thinking green years before the LEED process emerged. General Services Administration rules set out specific goals for building efficiency that preceded LEED, says Jason Wandersee, an architect and project manager for the courthouse design at DLR Group of Portland. When LEED emerged as the green industry standard, GSA added certification as a requirement for the courthouse.

"This addition of seeking LEED certification did not require a lot of redesign," he says.

Most green aspects of the building are mundane, involving things such as low-flow urinals, low-maintenance landscaping, locating near public transportation and the like.

"They may be unglamorous to talk about, but over the building's life they pay for themselves over and over," Wandersee says.

One rare feature in the courthouse design - under-floor ventilation - gives the building a LEED point for thermal comfort, he notes.

In typical designs, air is pumped through ducts. The air is heated or cooled several degrees more than the ambient air in the building - requiring more power for fans, heaters and coolers. It also creates uneven temperature and provides less control for individual work stations.

The courthouse design treats the entire under-floor cavity as a giant duct, filling it with air that is very near the ambient temperature of the building. Each work station has its own floor-mounted vent that allows individual workers a degree of control over the temperature at their station.

The system uses less energy and is much quieter than ducted systems. It also provides space and flexibility for easy rewiring as technology changes over the coming century, Wandersee says.

"These are little things that people don't think about," he says.

With some economists predicting a rapid end to the era of cheap energy, people will be thinking more and more about efficiency in buildings, Wandersee says. The need for green expertise already is changing the way architects are trained, even in the decade since Wandersee joined the profession.

The economics of energy and the green building movement may even boost the need for architects to be more involved in more buildings, Wandersee adds.

"I don't really know that America has got too long in its future where we can not do this," he said. "If it's not in the building now, it's going to be retrofitted in at a later date."

GREEN BUILDING

Government and private developers increasingly are using materials and techniques that conserve energy and resources while improving the indoor environment. The U.S. Green Building Council has developed Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards to rate their efforts.

LEED: Ratings are: certified, silver, gold and platinum, depending on the number of sustainable traits that a building has. The building council reviews applications to determine qualifications.

In Oregon: Currently there are four gold, nine silver and three certified buildings in the state under the latest LEED standards. Other buildings are being evaluated.

The courthouse: Builders expect the courthouse will earn a LEED certified rating, although they hope for silver. The building must be finished before it is evaluated.

More information: About LEED, www.usgbc.org; about green builders and techniques, www.ecobuilding.org; about city of Eugene sustainability policies, www.eugene-or.gov.

- The Register-Guard
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Title Annotation:Courts; Its features will earn the building a certification for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Nov 7, 2005
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