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Sunday, April 10,2011

City looks at ‘greening’ its buildings

By David DeWitt
City Council is taking another step toward energy efficiency with a proposed ordinance requiring all future construction of city buildings to meet a "green" standard. The ordinance would also apply to any major renovations of buildings that the city undertakes. The so-called "green building" policy was put forth by at-large City Council member Elahu Gosney, who pointed out Friday that this standard would only apply to city projects, not private development.

"One of the reasons I looked at putting this together was the big investment we're making in the (Athens) Community Center, which is roughly 10 years old," he said. "The realization that we have the potential to make such drastic improvements in the efficiency of a building that is relatively young led me to put this together to make sure that in the future the city is investing in projects that are efficient from the start."

City Council recently adopted an ordinance to retrofit the windows and lighting among other things at the Community Center for energy efficiency. The city also last year entered into an agreement with a company to use a solar carport to help cut electricity costs at the center.

In addition to that work, City Council has a variety of other projects on tap to make energy-efficient renovations to various city buildings, including replacing the windows at the city's code office.

Gosney said that his latest proposal, if passed, will require any new project over 5,000 square feet or major renovation to meet a minimum level of LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) silver certification. LEED certification calls for 100 possible base points, the silver standard requires the construction to earn at least 50 of these points. A "major renovation," Gosney said, includes any construction worth over 50 percent of a building's value.

The LEED guidelines come from the U.S. Green Building counsel, Gosney said. With various cities across the country having already adopted similar guidelines, Gosney said it's time for Athens to get on board.

While the LEED guidelines fit most buildings, Gosney said, he cited exceptions such as parking garages or storage facilities, where the LEED standards would not be appropriate. The proposed ordinance includes an exception clause, he said.

As far as the work goes, Gosney said that the city would have to go through a bidding process for any proposed construction, so the ordinance can't include a requirement to use local companies.

"It will ensure that we're working with architects, designers and contractors that have experience in LEED construction," he said. "And there are many that do. I think most are moving that way if they're not already there."

For instance, with the energy-efficiency work the city is undertaking at the code office and other places with Perfection Group out of Cincinnati, LEED-savvy workers are being used. Some local contractors have voiced concerns that they were not given the opportunity to do this work, but Gosney said that requests for proposals were put out and Perfection was chosen through an open process.

Gosney said that LEED standards act as an overall measure of sustainability, including a variety of factors ranging from what is done with demolition materials to what type of construction materials are used to how energy-efficient the building is when completed.

"This is hopefully a proactive way to ensure that in the future we are building smarter," Gosney said.

As part of its move toward sustainability of city buildings, the city of Athens has been undertaking an initiative that will have much of the lighting in the Community Center retrofitted for efficiency as well as include mechanical upgrades to heating and cooling systems, automation of thermostats, and the installation of high-efficiency, double-pane windows.

Gosney said that after this work is done, city officials would like to see the solar array go from providing 25 percent of the Community Center's energy needs up to 60 percent. He said that this is a rough estimate, adding that officials aren't certain what the percentage will be in the end.

The city also has received around $360,000 in federal stimulus funds to do energy-efficiency work at the wastewater treatment plant, he said.

Athens had also been working on a plan that would allow residents to jump the hurdle of upfront costs for residential solar power by allowing them to pay for home solar arrays through property taxes. Gosney said that project has stalled because of federal roadblocks that have been put in the way. He said a nationwide effort is underway to eliminate those roadblocks.

The green building policy ordinance is slated to see a vote from City Council by the end of the month, Gosney said.


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