Going Green in the City, 1 New Project at a Time; Criteria Meant to Let Buildings Be Less Wasteful Will Affect Local Construction

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Byline: STEVE PATTERSON

Low-rise walls of dark windows and concrete block make Jacksonville's new animal shelter look modern and suburban.

Six stories of beige brick and tall windows overlooking Hemming Plaza mean City Hall's new annex still looks like the century-old downtown landmark it is.

Different as they are, the two structures that entered city government's service this summer have similar features to save water and electricity and reduce air pollution.

They're early examples of a wave of eco-friendly government projects that promises to significantly affect construction in Florida.

Last year, Florida's Legislature said local governments must begin designing their new buildings to meet any of several sets of criteria meant to make construction more sustainable and less wasteful.

That choice is helping push green building beyond the niche role it has in many parts of the state.

"We were behind, but I think we're catching up quite quickly, which is good news," said Mary Tappouni, owner of Breaking Ground Contracting, a Jacksonville construction firm that specializes in sustainable building.

Jacksonville is seeking Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design gold-level certification - the second highest - for its new Animal Care and Protective Services building, which opened this month in North Riverside. The Jake M. Godbold City Hall Annex, a 1909-vintage structure first built for the YMCA, is seeking silver LEED certification from the U.S. Green Building Council.

Green building has faced some criticism as being more expensive than traditional construction, although advocates say lower energy and water costs make up for that over time.

Tappouni said her company can commonly deliver a green building for no extra construction cost, but says the process of certifying buildings adds money, as does follow-up inspection to make sure a building's systems are working at top efficiency.

Depending on the building and what the owner wants, the costs could represent 1 to 5 percent of the construction price, she said.

Because the state's new law doesn't say buildings have to be certified, only that they have to match certain standards, some communities skip certification to save money, said Suzanne Cook, executive director of the Florida Green Building Coalition.

But Cook worries that people making those decisions may not recognize when their high-efficiency buildings aren't really working as well as they could.

"Anytime someone is self regulating their own construction process, the public is not as well protected," she said. …