DGS Leads Efforts Toward Green Building Techniques

Thu February 03, 2005 - Southeast Edition
Susan Pollard

The Virginia Department of General Services (DGS) in Richmond is responsible for the construction and renovation of properties within the Capitol Complex and is leading the commonwealth of Virginia’s efforts in demolition, recycling and construction by tapping into green building techniques with the building of a new parking structure.

Green building practices incorporate environmental sensitivities in the design and construction of new structures by recycling and reusing materials and making new structures energy efficient.

In the fall of 2003, the sounds of bulldozers roared through the air as contractors working for DGS began demolishing two abandoned buildings, the former Division of Consolidated Laboratory Services building and the former Motor Fuel Lab, both located at the corner of 14th and Bank Streets in downtown Richmond.

“Before we started the project we met with the construction contractor to convey to him and his staff the importance of the recycling program,” said Chinh Vu, DGS manager for Security and Special Projects. “This is the first time the seat of government has taken on a recycling effort of this size, and we wanted to make sure we had the commitment from everyone involved to make this work,” Vu said.

As in most urban areas, parking is scarce for government employees and visitors to government facilities located in the central business district. Because the buildings located at the corner of 14th and Bank Streets had outlived their useful lives and there was a pressing need to replace parking spaces that were being lost, this site was viewed as being an ideal location for a new parking deck.

The project provided an opportunity to implement a radically different approach incorporating an aggressive effort to recycle all building materials for Virginia. While green building practices are not mandated by the commonwealth, it was determined that this recycling effort would set the bar for future projects.

By the Ton

The demolition of these two buildings yielded almost 14,000 tons (12,700 t) of asphalt, concrete, steel and other debris. The steel, asphalt and mixed debris was transported to specialized recycling facilities.

The fate of the concrete was markedly different. A concrete crusher was set up on site to recycle 100 percent of the concrete, which amounted to 12,750 tons (11,567 t) of the total amount of material generated. The crushed concrete was used as backfill. This considerable recycling effort, the first of its kind in the commonwealth, resulted in a savings of more than $485,000. This is a conservative savings estimate because it does not include the cost of labor. Including the labor costs to haul material away could increase the savings to more than $500,000.

Expenditures in a typical demolition and construction project using the conventional approach include transportation to the landfill, disposal charges, buying backfill materials and paying for the transportation of these backfill materials to the site. The estimated cost to do this at the Laboratory Services site was almost $590,000. Calculating the cost of recycling the concrete on site includes expenditures for equipment, such as the concrete crusher, excavator, track loader and four equipment operators. It also included the sale of copper materials and metals that generated revenue of $60,000.

A comparison of the methods demonstrates that if the conventional method of demolition and construction were used, costs would have been upwards of $590,000, while the aggressive recycling approach used by DGS cost less than $100,000. Recycling these materials did not affect the overall project schedule.

“Government should lead by example,” said Richard Sliwoski, director of Engineering and Buildings. “It’s all part of being good stewards of the environment and tax dollars. This project clearly demonstrates that states can recycle construction materials, build a project in a timely manner, safeguard the environment and save money.”

Part of the Plan

Prior planning was critical in ensuring that recycling activities did not cause contractors to deviate from the project timetable. Coordinating a demolition, recycling and construction project of this magnitude and having limited experience in the construction recycling aspect presented some challenges for the DGS.

Envisioning an environmentally and economically sound strategy for a demolition and construction project was the first step in the project. Significant planning went into the development.

This project was not the typical low bid job, but rather was procured under an approach known as Construction Manager at Risk. Companies bidding on the project were required to include recycling processes into their proposals and develop a timetable for sorting, recycling and project completion. Other options reducing the demolition time were explored, including implosion. (It wasn’t deemed feasible in light of the height of the buildings and the potential for collateral damage.)

Demolishing the buildings in a staged and calculated manner also allowed for the simultaneous sorting of recyclable materials.

The on-site crushing and recycling process was completed in April 2004. The gradation of recycled material met the backfill specification. The basement areas were filled to create a stable platform that allowed the demolition equipment to reach the upper levels of the building.

During the four-month demolition period, the debris was removed from the basement area and all materials were sorted into appropriate piles and recycled.

“If we can find ways to save the environment by reducing the landfill waste and reuse materials to save project costs, that’s a winner. That’s what happened on our project. Green building projects shouldn’t be overlooked,” Vu said.

Now well under way, the new $19-million parking structure is an example of a new approach to traditional construction methods. Currently, crews are working on the installation of the elevator, masonry, security fencing, roofing, waterproofing and electrical, plumbing and mechanical work.

The parking deck is strategically located; rids the commonwealth of two unsightly, outdated buildings; and, when it opens in September, will provide 1,500 much needed parking spaces.

“Everyone always asks us what lessons we learned,” Sliwoski said. “We knew this was possible and we proved it can be done in a timely, cost-effective manner if it’s built into the project plan. Instead of waiting for laws to catch up and require recycling of construction materials, the state is leading by example. Yes, Virginia, you can save money through recycling.”

(This article is reprinted with the permission of Susan Pollard of Virginia’s Department of General Services.)