Turning Green into Gold: Certified Green Buildings Demonstrate Park Agencies' Commitment to Conservation

Article excerpt

The Right Stuff

FOR THREE DECADES, the low-slung, 1950s-era Gragg Building housed the Houston Parks and Recreation Department. Its closed-in floor plan and dark corridors cluttered with computer cables belied its momentous place in history as the former home of NASA's Manned Spacecraft Center. Which left a dilemma for the parks department--how to update this historic building where Alan Shepard and Gus Grissom once worked while still meeting today's green building certification standards?

Like several other major cities, Houston now requires that major renovations or new construction projects over 10,000 square feet undertaken by city departments meet Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification requirements. The LEED program, administered by the U.S. Green Building Council, assigns up to 100 points to projects in five areas: sustainable sites; water efficiency, energy and atmosphere; materials and resources; and indoor environmental quality. Additional points are available for innovation in design or aspects that address regional conservation priorities. Out of a maximum of 110 possible points, a score of 40-49 points brings LEED certification, 50-59 equals the LEED Silver level, 60-79 means LEED Gold, and 80 points or above merits LEED Platinum.

Because reuse of materials can be a major source of LEED points, maintaining the Gragg building's historical designation was not a big hurdle to reaching LEED Gold, according to Lisa Johnson, parks program manager for the Houston General Services Department. For example, old mahogany veneer paneling was reused and wooden grates formerly used over air vents became an architectural detail on one wall of the conference room. However, the profile of the windows had to match historically, and with that profile no longer being made, the old windows had to be kept intact, affecting the efficiency of the HVAC system.

Other areas where the Gragg Building earned points were through adding natural lighting to the corridors, using low VOC (volatile organic compounds) finishes and paint, being located close to public transportation, and having specially designated parking spaces for low-emission vehicles. Now that the Houston Parks and Recreation Department has its first LEED-certified project, Johnson is optimistic that certification for two green community centers currently under construction will go smoothly.

"There is a lot of back and forth and there's a lot of documentation," she recalls. "You've got to stay on top of it from the beginning. We learned a lot from the first one."

The Tennis Center that Ruth Built

Houston is not the only city to undertake the green renovation of a large historic park building. Halfway across the country, construction of the new Yankee Stadium caused some reshuffling of parks and park facilities in the Bronx. Sixteen tennis courts now buried beneath the new Yankee Stadium needed to be replaced. However, their proposed home in a newly created 11-acre waterfront park included a hulking vacant brick building--the old Power House for the Bronx Terminal Market. Although the rest of the old wholesale facility was demolished, the Power House was preserved.

"The building is beautiful. It would have been just a huge mistake to get rid of it," waxes Kevin Quinn, director of architecture for NYC Parks. "We did the analysis and we could get a LEED-certified building.... It's the right thing to do to preserve when you can."

"This building was a great example of reusing a resource that's already there," agrees project architect and LEED coordinator Jim Nelson of Stantec, a provider of professional design and consulting services. "You can't build a greener new building than you can by restoring an old building."

The 28,000-square foot building was completely gutted and certified under LEED "core and shell" guidelines. That means that points are based on creating space for tenants to fit out rather being completely finished. …