More NJ Companies ’Building Green’

Wed September 24, 2003 - Northeast Edition

HIGHTSTOWN, NJ (AP) The glass-and-zinc fin that will soar high above the new science building at The Peddie School is more than just a decorative flair.

It is a sign of things to come.

The vast wall of glass will face due south, an orientation allowing it to soak up precious winter sunlight and save on heating and lighting bills.

When the temperatures climb, the windows atop the tall corridor will open, allowing hot air to escape the building and drawing in cool air from areas excavated below ground level — saving on air-conditioning costs.

Across the region, from Peddie’s leafy campus to the state buildings in Trenton to the commercial offices that line Route 1, people are beginning to think seriously about “building green.”

Peddie has contracted to begin construction of the building in May. And with its advanced temperature system, the new science center will put Peddie at the vanguard of the green movement.

What’s more, the building also puts the exclusive school at the center of the green movement’s greatest controversy: How much cash is it worth up front to save money and the planet down the road?

Peddie’s high-tech science center is expected to cost about $15 million to build and will measure 42,000 sq. ft. It will accommodate 11 laboratories/classrooms and some “special projects rooms” for individual research.

Officials hope the building will be completed by autumn of 2005, at which time the current science building, dating back to 1964, will undergo a major renovation and emerge as a history building.

“Once climate control became a standard feature in commercial construction, most developers stopped thinking about how to work with nature rather than against it,” said Stephen McDaniel, a principal at Hillier, the West Windsor-based architecture firm that is overseeing the project.

“That attitude has started to change over the past decade or so,” McDaniel continued, “and we are trying to push the envelope as to what is possible — a decision that seemed appropriate given that this building is being designed for science education.”

In addition to the protruding “spine of light,” McDaniel and project designer James Burton hope to add several other features that will make the new building a model among advanced buildings designed to consume fewer resources and generate less waste than traditional structures.

The pair would like to add solar panels to the building’s roof, heat-controlling window shades between the double layers of glass and a state-of-the art system for moving air around the building.

In deciding which of these additions to allow, school officials are trying to balance good citizenship with cost effectiveness.

Every system designed to make a building more green adds costs to the bottom line.

Basic expenditures on insulation, for example, pay for themselves very rapidly by reducing utility bills. Others, such as for solar panels, might not.

School officials would not estimate how much their desire to be green would ultimately add to building costs. However, the school aims to spend more than $350 per sq. ft. on construction, well above the $210 to $230 range that wealthy public schools are spending these days for high quality buildings.

Of course, not all of the additional costs necessarily stem from green systems. Science buildings tend to be more expensive than general purpose school structures.

“We are weighing present costs and future benefits very carefully these days,” said Charles Galbraith, the business manager at Peddie. “Obviously, we want to do everything possible to be good citizens and to keep our future operating costs as low as possible. But ultimately, there is a limit as to what we can afford.”

Despite a lackluster response in some quarters, the movement to build green is gaining momentum, particularly in the public sector.

Here in New Jersey, state officials are preparing to build and upgrade many schools in the state’s poorest districts, and they plan to ensure that all of them post a good score on a national scale that measures environmental friendliness.

The Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design scale uses many criteria to award points to buildings. Builders score better if they use urban land rather than farmland, recycled materials rather than new ones or multi-story designs rather than single-story ones. Energy efficiency and innovative designs also win more points.

In Seattle and Portland, city officials have incorporated a LEED review in the planning approval process. The U.S. Navy, Air Force and Park Service have done the same.

In the private sector, there are many signs that developers are making some changes in the way they do things, particularly as environmentally friendly materials begin to fall in price and offer the possibility of financial gain.

For example, at the Carnegie Center office park on Route 1 in West Windsor, owner Boston Properties has just completed a major upgrade of its lighting systems, using energy-efficient equipment designed to cut costs.

“The project cost us hundreds of thousands of dollars, but it’s going to pay us back with lower utility bills and it’s going to help us consume less energy,” said Mickey Landis, a Boston Properties vice president who runs the property.

“As time moves on, technology improves and costs fall. I’m sure we will be doing other upgrades here. We are constantly looking for ways to lower our bills and reduce our impact on the surrounding area,” he added.

Since Boston Properties completed its first Carnegie Center building back in 1981, better materials and building techniques have enabled the developer to improve energy efficiency with each new structure.

Things will likely get greener still before the company has built the remaining 2 million sq. ft. of space that its land can support.

Yet, despite such promise in the private sector, architects such as Hillier’s McDaniel think it’s up to public agencies and nonprofit organizations such as Peddie to lead the way.

“Private developers may begin voluntarily building green if the price of heat and electricity becomes more expensive and stays that way, but right now, very little of this stuff makes sense from a purely economic standpoint,” said McDaniel.

“A school like Peddie has very different priorities. Creating quality buildings is pivotal to their efforts to recruit the best students, and the time line they think about when they build is much longer. Peddie expects its buildings to last at least 50 years, if not forever. A private developer doesn’t think much beyond 10 or 20 years.”