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Bloomington earns green distinction for city hall

December 28, 2012

Bloomington's City Hall has achieved Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification from the U.S. Green Building Council.

Other than bragging rights and a plaque on the wall, what's in it for the city and the taxpayers?

"In part, it is about bragging rights," said city sustainability coordinator Jacqui Bauer. "I think that's OK. Part of the reason we chose City Hall as our first LEED-certified building is that it makes the great point that any building, no matter how old or why it was built, can achieve great things."

The building was constructed as the Showers Brothers Furniture factory more than 100 years ago, long before energy conservation or sustainability became socially valuable pursuits.

The city spent around $160,000 in federal American Recovery and Reinvestment money to attain requirements necessary to earn that plaque on the wall. In the process, it shrank its electricity bill to the extent that the energy-saving upgrades are expected to have paid for themselves in 10 years, and new lighting in just four.

A couple thousand dollars went to the U.S. Green Building Council to apply for certification.

"It cost us more to certify City Hall than it will to certify any other building, because it was our first," Bauer told The Herald-Times.

Some steps toward LEED certification required one-time expenses. For example, creating a sustainable purchasing policy cost hours of staff time, but that policy will count toward LEED qualification for other buildings at no additional cost.

Thanks to work toward LEED, City Hall's electric bill is 46 percent lower than in 2006.

The facility manager, Barry Collins, is very interested in hitting LEED goals, Bauer said. "He's interested in seeing how efficiently he can get this building to run. It's kind of a game for him. He's been critical in getting this building certified."

The building satisfied criteria for energy and water use, sustainable management practices, site management, air quality and waste reduction to earn the distinction. It excelled in staff who commute on foot, bike or by public transit.

Reaching energy conservation standards was the toughest challenge, Bauer said, and was the one factor that didn't hit the target for a silver LEED rating.

"We really struggled," Bauer said. "We still have a long list of additional upgrades we're working on to continue chipping away on our energy use."

A "variable frequency drive"—like a dimmer switch—was installed on the building's boiler. Previously, the city's heat source was either off or running at maximum capacity.

Another energy saver was LED lighting. Bauer said about two-thirds of City Hall's light fixtures are using the low-wattage, high-lumens lamps. The new lighting is expensive, so the city is replacing it in stages, and the cost is falling as the technology improves. A silver rating remains a goal.

Bauer credits the city's efforts to comply with its own Green Building Ordinance, adopted in 2009, for laying the groundwork for the LEED certification process.

That ordinance requires the city government to retrofit its buildings to be more environmentally friendly, and to determine whether it is feasible and prudent to attain LEED certification for its existing buildings.

Achieving LEED certification for City Hall was a learning experience that will be useful for the city's other buildings, Bauer said, but getting additional plaques on the wall isn't the goal; sustainability and saving money are.

The city will look at Twin Lakes Recreation Center next to analyze how to cut energy costs, and whether aiming for LEED recognition would pay off. Twin Lakes has already had an HVAC upgrade and new light fixtures, two of the largest energy-expenses in the facility. Other LEED-track improvements could save money, too.

"There are a lot of other steps that LEED forces you to go through that you might not think about otherwise, like indoor air quality, things that aren't necessarily on your priority list," she said.

LEED standards for existing buildings are different than for new construction, Bauer explained. For existing buildings, certification requires analysis of how the building is used, how it functions and operational policies, such as purchasing and cleaning.

"It's very intensive," Bauer said.

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