Go for the Green

Departments are finding going green saves more than the environment; it saves them money as well

     What does this mean to the police agency itself? Plenty, Smith says. How the city's police department handles the cost savings is entirely up to them. "They can certainly say, 'We saved you a half-million dollars in heating costs; can we hire three more officers?' "

     Stewart agrees, noting much can be done with the money saved. The department's new site reduces energy costs by 24 percent with a 30kW photovoltaic renewable energy system. This geo heat pump system pushes air through tubing in the ground into the building to lessen the load on the city's HVAC system. "The air circulated into the building is always picking up that ground temperature, which is usually around 60 degrees Fahrenheit," he explains.

     In addition, Cotati's water efficient landscaping has reduced landscape irrigation system water use by 50 percent, while the use of low-flow toilets and water systems has reduced potable water consumption by 30 percent. "It all adds up," he says.

Whistle while you work

     Savings doesn't only come in the form of money, adds Stewart, who points out that the agency has seen an increase in efficiency among employees working in the new facility — a fact he attributes to better lighting and improved air quality.

     The building utilizes materials that emit low or no volatile organic compounds. He explains VOCs, such as methane, can vaporize off building materials and enter the air, which may contribute to sick building syndrome, a situation in which occupants experience acute health effects that seem to be linked to time spent within the building.

     With 90 percent of the occupied spaces having access to an exterior view, through a skylight system running along the building's spine, Cotati PD employees also can work without the lights on during the day. "It keeps employees from getting dragged down with fluorescent lights," says Stewart. "This really makes a difference in how people feel at work."

     Harvey Van Hoven, director of the Monroe County Public Safety Laboratory in Rochester, N.Y., and Mike Garland, director of the Monroe County Department of Environmental Services, echo Stewart's sentiments. The county will break ground on a $30 million green crime lab this fall and expects similar results when finished.

     The County Executives Green Building Policy, developed by Monroe County Executive Maggie Brooks, requires LEED certification for new buildings greater than 5,000 square feet. The lab, a four-story, 45,000-square-foot building, clearly falls within that policy. Garland notes because high-performance, energy-efficient and environmentally friendly buildings create a positive, productive work environment for occupants, a green building brings many social benefits.

     "People find themselves enjoying working in green buildings, and as a result tend to be more productive and content," he says. Building occupants will also experience greater health because of better indoor air quality, which will be improved with an HVAC system that promotes rapid air exchange throughout the day.

Nothing worthwhile is free

     The downside, as with anything, is that nothing worthwhile ever comes free; and green buildings are no exception. Building green is more expensive at the onset, agree those who've already gone down this road.

     The Monroe County crime lab includes porous pavement to avoid storm runoff, a white roof so the building retains less heat, low light from the building at night to limit light pollution, a high-efficiency HVAC system, an exterior built with recycled materials, and more. These green features increased the project's total cost by approximately $700,000; an upfront investment that Garland predicts will pay dividends in lower energy bills.

     "I don't have a computed payback on that," Garland admits. "But we expect to see 10 to 15 percent improvement on energy efficiency."

     Green features added approximately $700,000 to Cotati's project as well, but Stewart too expects a rapid return on that investment. "It added some cost to the process, but doing our part was really important to us and to the city," he says.

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