Courthouse Gets a Green Thumbs Up for Its Efficiency

Article excerpt

Byline: Bill Bishop The Register-Guard

Beneath the curving skin of Eugene's new federal courthouse, the unheralded nuts and unglamorous bolts of the building's inner life aspire to something beyond its destiny as an architectural landmark.

The under-floor heating and cooling system, the adhesives, the paint, the manner in which it is built and other features will earn the building a certification for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design from the U.S. Green Building Council.

Although the courthouse won't garner the highest LEED ranking, its status as a centerpiece to downtown will send a strong message that public agencies from the federal government to the city of Eugene are strongly behind energy efficiency, sustainable building practices and better-quality indoor environments, local leaders say.

"The courthouse will be a really good example because it is such a high-profile building," says Scott Stolarczyk, a Eugene architect and president of the local chapter of the American Institute of Architects. "It may not be the greenest building out there. It is a good example of showing you can do almost anything with a building and still have some good environmental qualities about it."

Since the U.S. Green Building Council kicked off its LEED program about five years ago, sustainable building practices have taken the design and building trades by storm. So much so that claims of "green" building techniques and products are increasingly overstated, Stolarczyk says.

"Everyone wants a piece of it. Everyone wants to sell a green product," he says.

That's where the LEED certification process comes in.

The building council reviews "green" buildings on a point-by-point basis, awarding credit for very specific technical aspects of site development, water and energy efficiency, materials, indoor environment and innovation. Based on points earned, a building may merit a status of certified, silver, gold or - the highest LEED rating - platinum.

Courthouse builders believe they will rate about 32 points on the LEED scale, enough for certification, but two points shy of the silver level. Since the rating can't be determined until the building is finished and the extensive LEED review completed, they're holding out hope for silver, says Alan Halleck, project manager for the general contractor, JE Dunn Construction.

The courthouse project fits right in with the city's growing commitment to green construction, says Jan Bohman, the city's community relations manager.

Late in the past century, the City Council established policies to promote sustainable practices, with orders to the staff to lead by example. The city's building department now draws local expertise from its Green Building Advisory Group to better prepare the permitting process for green building designs, Bohman notes.

Mayor Kitty Piercy's Sustainable Business Initiative looks at green industries as a sector ripe for local economic development efforts, Bohman adds.

The city this summer kicked off an initiative to promote green building by offering support and incentives to three private developments that will emphasize efficient design and sustainable practices.

"It's very encouraging to see there are advocates within the city who want to see the green building movement propel forward," says Stolarczyk, who is involved in one of the green projects. He says the initiative encourages city staff to be more involved in brainstorming and quicker to respond to questions about how the green project's design fits city rules.

"The community, and the city, are looking at all kinds of ways to go for a more sustainable future," Bohman says. …