- The Washington Times - Monday, September 4, 2000

ANNAPOLIS When the Chesapeake Bay Foundation moves into its new headquarters this year, employees will work in one of the bossiest buildings in the nation.

Is it environmentally correct, or will the unusual-looking $6 million building be just plain annoying with its father-knows-best design?

Workers will use flushless toilets and wash their hands in unheated rainwater.

"Most of our staff are environmentalists, and this will be educational [for them] … it will be a different experience," said Chuck Foster, director of facilities for the foundation dedicated to cleaning up the bay and creating wildlife sanctuaries.

Computerized red and green lights will tell workers when to open or close windows. Photo sensors will decide when the lights go on. If the sensors think the light coming through the windows is enough, off go the lights a worker just turned on.

Officials say this will be one of the "greenest" office buildings ever built. Mr. Foster isn't sure whether there are any others like it in the world, but it certainly will "set a new benchmark for office construction in the United States."

Mr. Foster said some of the people who go to work there in November "may think it looks rough, unfinished. The ductwork will be open, but beauty is expensive."

Officials hope that what they lose on looks and on the $6 million construction price that is considerably higher than a conventional building of the same size they will make up in savings on maintenance, operation and energy.

"We will spend only $20,000 a year on energy costs as compared to $70,000 for a regular building," Mr. Foster said. "We hope to make this a signature headquarters for our foundation it will combine educational, conservation and restoring functions."

The building uses some unique and environmentally friendly techniques to carry out everyday functions. Rain that runs off the parking lot will be routed through two filtering systems, after which it is supposed to be clean enough to drink.

Mr. Foster said environmental criteria guided every decision, from the selection of building materials and office furniture to landscaping to the height of outdoor lighting, which is kept low to reduce the impact on birds at night.

"Every building material was looked at on a cradle-to-cradle basis," Mr. Foster said.

What was the recyclable content? How long was the life cycle? How far would materials be transported from the manufacturing site to the construction site? How much packing material would be used?

Looking far into the future, the final question: "When it dies, can it be made into something useful again?" Mr. Foster said.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation, an environmental group that works to restore the health of the Bay, has offices scattered in several locations around Annapolis. It spent several years looking for a site for a new headquarters.

It settled on a 33-acre tract on the Chesapeake Bay in the community of Bay Ridge at the mouth of the Severn River, a few miles from downtown Annapolis. A $7.5 million gift from Philip Merrill, publisher of Washingtonian magazine, the Annapolis Capital and four other newspapers, provided most of the money for the headquarters.

The property had been a public beach and banquet facility for many years, but the owner closed it and planned to sell lots for high-end housing. Bay Ridge residents then approached the foundation about buying the property for its headquarters.

The decision drew mild criticism from people who thought the foundation was not being true to its environmental principals by moving out of town into a residential community.

"I would have liked to see them stay in town. There is bus service. We have a variety of places for lunch," Annapolis Mayor Dean Johnson said. "Where they are moving, they'll have to get into an automobile simply to go to lunch."

Geoff Oxnam, spokesman for the foundation, said the decision was environmentally sound.

The property is located in a priority funding area under Gov. Parris N. Glendening's smart growth program, and already was developed with a large swimming pool and several buildings.

"We built on the footprint of the existing facility, so we didn't increase the impervious surface area," Mr. Oxnam said.

The foundation will be restoring wetlands and marshes and improving wildlife habitat, he said.

Tom Eichbaum, a partner in Smith Group Architects, which designed the building, said residential development of the property would have had a more negative impact on the environment than its use by the foundation.

Mr. Eichbaum said it was fun to design what he called "this wonderful puzzle that is slowly emerging."

He had to incorporate into the plans not only the environmentally friendly elements that made sense from an economic standpoint but also those that the foundation wanted to include as a demonstration of responsible development, even if they added to the final cost.

That meant using cork flooring throughout most of the building instead of carpeting. Cork is quiet, has a warm, friendly color and does not give off harmful gases as does carpet. Plus, it is a renewable resource, Mr. Eichbaum said.

"You harvest cork and the tree remains alive. You're not destroying a forest," Mr. Eichbaum said.

The building's outside walls use galvanized siding, which seems an unlikely material for an environmental organization.

Mr. Foster said the siding has a high recyclable content, requires little maintenance, is manufactured within 300 miles of the site and "is flat and required minimal packaging."

About one-third of the energy will come from renewable sources, including solar panels to heat water for showers and laundry and geothermal heat pumps operating in 300-foot-deep wells to help heat and cool the building.

Mr. Foster estimates the building will use only about one-third as much energy from conventional sources as a traditional office building.

Those flushless toilets, with wastes going directly into composting bins, will contribute to huge reductions in water use. Mr. Foster estimates the building will use only about 10 percent as much water from wells or public water supplies as a conventional building.

All this environmental concern does not come cheap.

The costs will be around $200 a square foot, considerably more expensive than a standard building but "not too far out of line with a very high-end building," Mr. Foster said.

He estimates efforts to make the building as green as possible added about $50 per square foot to the $7.5 million project.

Reduced energy use and reduced maintenance will deliver some long-term savings, but not enough to make up the difference, Mr. Foster said.

"Our board wanted us to set an example, to show people what can be done," Mr. Foster said.

He also believes that in the future, as technology improves, costs of constructing a green building will become more competitive with conventional construction methods.

Some wood was used to build screens that will reduce heat from the summer sun but allow in winter sun to help heat the building. However the wood came not directly from trees but from old pickle barrels salvaged by Mr. Foster from a defunct pickle factory.

"Some of these barrels were the size of swimming pools," Mr. Foster said.

But even the environmentally friendly project had to cross the line at times.

"We had to cut down three trees each just 4 to 5 inches in diameter to accommodate the driveway," Mr. Foster said.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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