Texas is going green! catch up

"jump on the green train! Many Texas projects are requiring it"

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Blueprint for Sustainability

The demand for healthier, more efficient buildings is driving new design and construction practices

Green building is finding a welcome home in many Texas communities as sustainable building practices prove their worth. Natural Outlook looks at some of the outstanding examples of green building in Texas—in the public sector and academia.

In this story:
Going Greener
Going the Extra Mile

The Dallas police headquarters was a trailblazer when it opened in 2003. Every step in planning and construction closely
                                                   followed the green-building principles of sustainability, earning the project widespread acclaim and a silver LEED rating.
                                                   Courtesy of PSA-Dewberry; Mark Trew, photographer.

Early on, being green was anything but easy.

That's what Dallas city officials learned when they undertook their first super-efficient, green building project in 1999.

The project on the drawing board was a new police headquarters, which was needed to replace an overcrowded, 80-year-old facility.

Ideas started rolling in for reflective roofing material, waterless urinals, and higher wall insulation values.

A HEPA-grade filtration system was included to improve indoor air quality.

Planners even devised a way to collect and store storm water to supply all the irrigation needs on the 4-acre site, a once-contaminated industrial property near downtown.

But one requirement—to use paints, adhesives, sealants, and carpets with low levels of volatile organic compounds—almost proved to be an impossible hurdle.

"It was difficult to locate materials that met the 'green' criteria," recalls Robert Van Buren, a senior architect with the city of Dallas. "They just weren't readily available. Over the last five or six years, however, there has been a tremendous change in the marketplace as more products have come out to meet green standards. It really has transformed the industry."

The Jack Evans Police Headquarters opened in 2003 to the acclaim of the Environmental Protection Agency and advocates of minimizing the impact of commercial and government buildings on their occupants and the environment.

The city of Dallas transformed a once contaminated industrial property near downtown to one of the 'greenest' buildings
                                                   in Texas. The Jack Evans Police Headquarters, open since 2003, holds the department's administrative offices, a physical evidence
                                                   lab, and a museum. Courtesy of PSA-Dewberry; Mark Trew, photographer

Not long after the six-story building was in full use, the savings began adding up. "Due to energy costs going up at a higher rate than we projected and the building operating a little more efficiently than the energy model, we are actually ahead of expectations," says Van Buren, who was the project manager.

Rather than 10 years to recoup the front-end "green" building costs, it now looks closer to 8 years, he said, explaining that "even relatively inexpensive things like occupant sensors have helped. This allows the building to turn lights off in areas not being used. You don't have to rely on someone to remember to flip the switch."

The police headquarters became the first project in Dallas certified by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), a nonprofit that promotes building and design practices that are environmentally responsible.

Other green-building rating systems exist, but the USGBC's is the most recognized and widely used.

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Going Greener

Dallas has company in its pursuit of long-term savings with the green approach to municipal projects. City councils in Austin, Houston, San Antonio, and Frisco have also passed resolutions or ordinances calling for future city projects to follow green guidelines for sustainability.

In fact, public projects have been at the forefront of green building, says Van Buren. "Private developers did not see the value added in that expense. It's been a gradual change as they now see the marketing advantage."

A number of large corporations have now embraced the "healthy workplace" standard at the urging of employees, says Houston architect Tim Murray. "Some corporations will only lease space in buildings that are considered green. It's necessary for recruiting. College graduates who have been raised on the 'reuse and reclaim' mantra are actually asking recruiters where they will be working and in what sort of building."

Murray, president of USGBC's Greater Houston chapter, sees the momentum for green building accelerating. He said that in June 2006, there were 29 projects in Houston seeking LEED certification with the USGBC; by June 2007 there were 110. "It means they've signed up with the USGBC and announced they intend to build by these standards."

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Going the Extra Mile

The rating system for LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) was issued in 2000 by the USGBC. The more environmentally sustainable a project, the more points it earns toward its LEED ranking.

Projects are evaluated by factors such as energy and water efficiency, recycling and disposal of waste, and innovative design. Points accrue, for example, for using building materials drawn from local sources, which reduces energy spent on transporting materials. Recycling is also rewarded when construction materials are reused on-site rather than being hauled to a landfill.

The program also encourages features that promote worker health and productivity—such as superior indoor air quality and natural lighting.

Under the LEED system, projects registered with USGBC must be evaluated before they can be certified. Certified projects that go the extra mile and accrue additional points may be labeled silver, gold, and, finally, platinum.

The new Dell Children's Medical Center of Central Texas, at almost 500,000 square feet, has raised the bar for green
                                                   building in Texas. Following strict conservation principles during design and construction, the hospital could be designated
                                                   the most environmentally advanced facility in the state. Courtesy Marc Swendner Photography

The USGBC reports that 37 projects (new construction) have been certified in Texas. Of those, seven earned gold, but none has yet to reach the pinnacle of platinum.

That may change after this summer's opening of the Dell Children's Medical Center of Central Texas. Built on the runway of Austin's former airport, designers took advantage of that fact and reused about 47,000 tons of runway material in building the hospital.

Also, 92 percent of construction waste was recycled on-site. Use of local and regional materials saved fuel on shipping.

Reclaimed water is used for irrigation, and toilets throughout the hospital have a dual-flush setting for high or low volume.

An on-site natural-gas turbine supplies all of the electricity, while links to the municipal grid and emergency generators provide backup. Converted steam energy from a heating and cooling plant supplies the chilled water. Under-floor ducts for air distribution in nonpatient areas require less fan power than ducts placed above the ceiling.

Natural light is pervasive. Five interior courtyards and lots of windows bring daylight to most offices and within 32 feet of every patient room. Much of the food served on hospital trays is grown on farms and ranches in Central Texas.

Officials with the Seton Family of Hospitals say that from an environmental standpoint there is no other hospital in the world like this one. The Austin facility is already drawing visitors from as far away as Japan and China.

The USGBC estimates it will take several months to obtain a third-party review of the project and determine whether the children's hospital merits the prestigious rating of platinum. If so, it will be the state's first.

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