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January/February 2011
Eco-Attitudes in the Balance: Sustainable Structures in Washington County
Local ‘Green’ Projects Tip the Scales Toward Earth-Friendly Construction.

by G.M. Corrigan + photos by Jamie Turner and Jason Turner

• • •

Not yet ready to trade your wing tips for Birkenstocks or swap your SUV for a Smart Car? Fret not. Like a growing number of once-skeptical builders and property
managers, you might at least be ready to embrace the evident benefits of sustainable building design and construction. It was a theme that played out — despite
a recent industry report indicating the persistence of “green” construction misconceptions among developers — across a handful of eco-friendly area renovation and new construction projects.

“The building is working really well. We are very happy with its efficiencies,” says Chris Zachariadis, co-owner and founder of Middletown’s Lucy School (with wife Victoria Brown), of the school’s ultra-sustainable primary building, completed in the fall of 2008. The $2 million showcase structure — home for grades K–3 — is being considered for certification as the first LEED for Schools (the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) “platinum” school in Maryland.

Established in 2002 to optimize education for 3–8 year olds through arts-based curricula, the four-building, 100-student school complex — situated on a 17-acre former farm subdivision — is setting to a host of eco-friendly improvements. Nowhere, however, are these improvements more on display than in the school’s 7,000-square-foot, solar-powered, primary building. “We’ve tried to do a lot of things,” Chris says, indicating a bevy of energy-saving, well-being-enhancing and environmentally conscious features of a structure that could serve as a metaphor for the educational innovativeness of its owners. Those features include: a geothermal heating and cooling system; radiant energy-impeding glass; dual-flush, rainwater-powered toilets; reflective roofing; solar panels supplying 20 percent of the building’s electricity; woodwork and flooring of reused, recycled and renewable materials; low-fume paints, sealants and adhesives; eight rain garden catchments for better rainwater distribution and computerized energy controls, complete with a carbon dioxide monitor.

“Reduce, reuse and recycle are the watchwords of the environmental movement,” Chris adds, pointing out that the USGBC’s qualifying standards for schools are even stricter than for other buildings. “So this new green building is consistent with that philosophy… And I think it’s turning out better [efficiency- and savings-wise] than I
originally expected.”

The Show Must Go On
“It takes education to get people to understand what this roof does,” Ron Bowers, chairman of The Maryland Theatre’s building committee, said a year ago, just after the theater’s environmentally friendly, $147,000 reflective roof had been installed on the 95-year-old Hagerstown landmark. “I just wanted to get a leak fixed,” the former Washington County supervisor added. “We were ready to reinstall a regular roof [when Eco Construction Company President Ken Saur said] a reflective roof was more energy efficient and cheaper in the long run.”

The roof in question — a bright white, non-petroleum-based membrane called thermoplastic polyolefin (TPO) that is heat-welded to an environmentally friendly insulating medium with a non-carbon-based adhesive — has a per-unit cost of only 6 percent above standard roofing. The warranted 20-year covering, however, reflects 79 percent of the sun’s warming radiation, reducing summer cooling bills by 10–15 percent, Ken says. And it doesn’t shed asphalt, chemicals or fiberglass pollutants — major components of standard roofs — into stormwater run-off and, ultimately, area streams, bays and water tables.

“We’ve seen a decrease in the amount of electricity in air conditioning the theater,” Ron says now, allowing that he has yet to quantify that savings. “But, absolutely [we’re saving on energy costs].” And, with the recent installation of an energy-efficient enclosure for house heating ductwork that, at $28,000, includes new stage flooring, other “green” improvements to the 1,379-capacity playhouse are following in the roof’s wake. “We’ll have to see what savings ensue [from the enclosure],” says Maryland Theatre Executive Director Jay Constantz, who also plans improvements to the hall’s air conditioning before summer.

Banking on Green Savings
“It starts before you put the first shovel in the ground, which applies to the existing structure,” observes Ghattas Enterprises President Asad Ghattas, of the USGBC’s standards for LEED-“silver” certification, which the developer is expecting for his Susquehanna Financial Center at 1800 Dual Highway. “We had to tear it down according to the U.S. Green Building Council’s guidelines,” he says of the previously existing structure on the property. Asad goes on to recount the holistic hoops the Council expects its applicants to jump through to get its coveted certifications: USGBC-certified engineers on staff or in consultation, reuse or recycling of demolished materials, a building design that encourages use of mass transportation or of fuel-efficient cars, renewable or recycled materials (obtained nearby to reduce transportation energy use) in building furnishings and eco-friendly roofing, to name but a few.

And, he says, the $14 million, 58,000-square-foot structure — built by Waynesboro Construction in 2009 and occupied primarily by Susquehanna Bank — meets all of the necessary requirements for a silver certification. “You have to keep in mind the energy-efficient operation of the HVAC system, the glass system,” he adds. “[This building is] state of the art. The flooring, the ceiling tiles, even the wood paneling on the walls, are made of recycled material. It’s all documented. It’s quite a process, but it’s very rewarding.”

But what about the three-story structure’s cost-efficiency and Ghattas Enterprises’ interest in future sustainable buildings? “I would estimate the building cost was 10–12 percent extra,” Asad explains. “But you reap that back in many ways. And [the building’s] already showing that the operating cost is more efficient. It’s worth it; I’d absolutely do it again.”

The Greening of a Community Center
Corporate Office Properties Trust, a publicly traded, Columbia-based real estate investment trust active in Washington County, has 22 LEED-certified projects — 10 “gold” and 12 “silver” — and 32 LEED-registered buildings across its 269 properties in six states. And one of those gold-certified buildings — the first in Washington County — is COPT’s $5 million, 21,000-square-foot community center at its Fort Ritchie at Cascade project. “We’ll get the money back in spades down the road,” Bill Hofmann, the project’s senior property and environmental services manager, said in 2009 of the center’s renovated (using original structural wood), 1950s-era gymnasium and new, environmentally friendly locker, work-out and office spaces.

With great emphasis on the use of renewable materials — flooring made of natural rubber, planking from “selected thinning” (as opposed to clear-cutting) logging, low-fume interior treatments, recycled cabinet materials and site fill rubble from demolished product — Fort Ritchie at Cascade’s community center is testament to the interrelatedness of environmental stewardship and cost-effective energy use. “The building is functioning as designed, and its maintenance has been less than originally expected,” Bill says. “We’re finding that the flooring [40 percent of the center’s floor space] that we’ve used is performing as advertised, is durable, and is of relatively low maintenance and low-cost to maintain,” he explains, estimating an upkeep savings of $2,000 per year.

Bill also says that the extra $5,000 spent on the center’s high-efficiency HVAC and lighting systems will be more than offset by a yearly, efficiency-related savings of $6,600, and that further discounts will accrue to the systems’ lower maintenance requirements. “It’s my first experience as operations manager of a green building,” Bill says, “and I’m very happy with the performance of the facility and the savings that it’s providing us.”

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