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Urban Waters: On pace for platinum?

Post by Lewis Kamb / The News Tribune on April 7, 2010 at 12:54 pm |
April 7, 2010 5:06 pm

With contractors putting the finishing touches on Tacoma’s much ballyhooed Center for Urban Waters, city employees have begun moving into the building stationed on the east side of the Thea Foss Waterway. As TNT reporter Rob Carson wrote about earlier this week, the structure is being hailed as a model for green design and construction.

No, those aren't dead trees. They're snags.

Among other things, Carson reported the $38 million center features a green roof, recycled water for toilets, a natural heating and cooling system, and natural light to reduce dependence on electricity.

City officials also tell me that the building includes some creative features that recycle elements from municipal projects of yore. For instance, the wood paneling throughout the building’s lobby area was salvaged from the old municipal dock; and slabs of granite pulled from old city streets have been refashioned into benches placed along the esplanade outside the new building.

(And by the way, those “dead trees” you see in front of the building? City officials want you to know they’re not dead trees at all. “They’re snags,” said assistant public works director Jim Parvey – and manmade ones at that, strategically fashioned from natural materials and installed by contractors to attract wildlife. People will enjoy the distinction, Parvey assured me, once they see bald eagles perched upon the lifeless branches.)

Nearly from the beginning of the planning process to build upon the former Superfund site the structure to be known as Urban Waters– the future home to city scientists, engineers and laboratories; University of Washington researchers; and the state agency charged with cleaning up Puget Sound — city officials vowed the ultra-green building would win a platinum rating from the U.S. Green Building Council for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.

But now with the project coming to a close, is it possible that after all the work the highest LEED designation won’t be achieved?

Absolutely not, Parvey said. In an interview in his office last week,  Parvey told me the city is on pace — well beyond it, even — to obtain the heralded platinum designation.

The city will have a consultant rate the building for LEED designation later this spring — a certification process that costs about $2,250, according to the LEEDs website. The true cost of achieving that designation is far higher. I’m still waiting to get hard details back from the city, but Parvey’s rough estimate of construction elements included in the building to raise it to platinum standards cost about $1.7 million above what it would cost to construct the same building at the standard city codes. But the added costs will easily be made up over time, paid back in terms of energy efficiency and other savings from the building, Parvey noted.

A checklist provided to me by the city now scores the project at 57 points on LEED’s 69-point rating scale for new construction.  For a platinum designation, the project needs to garner at least 52 points. (According to the checklist, the project receives most of its markdowns in the “Materials and Resources” category, in which it receives just 7 of 13 available points. But the project achieves high grades in the five other categories on the checklist — Sustainable Sites, Water Efficiency, Energy and Atmosphere, Indoor Environmental Quality and Innovation and Design Process. In those categories, the project obtains all or nearly all available points, at least by project officials’ accounting.)

“This is a highly technical building,” Parvey said. “Given the amount of challenges we’ve faced,  if we came in at a really high Gold rating, that would be a hell of an accomplishment. ”

“But we’re not going to fail,” he added. “We’re going to get platinum.”

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