By Tux Turkel, Portland Press Herald Writer
Travelers on Interstate 295 in Portland may notice a four-story medical office being completed next to the DoubleTree Hotel. The architecture won’t grab their attention. Few drivers will see anything extraordinary about the building.
It’s what people can’t see that makes this new building special.
They don’t see the white membrane roof that reflects heat. Or the extra foam insulation in the ceiling to help the offices use 15 percent less energy than a conventional building.
They don’t know that contractors have separated out metal and other construction materials for recycling, rather than tossing it all in one Dumpster. They might be surprised that the building has a shower and changing rooms, to encourage employees to bicycle to work.
In dozens of subtle ways, the $4 million office project at 50 Sewall St. is designed to be kinder to the environment and use less energy than its neighbors. For that it’s due to be certified by the U.S. Green Building Council as a LEED building, the first office in Maine to earn the distinction.
LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. It’s a voluntary standard for developing high-performance buildings.
Volatile energy costs and concerns over indoor pollution have triggered unprecedented national interest in the six-year-old program. In Maine, Gov. John Baldacci signed an executive order in 2003 to incorporate LEED practices in all new and renovated state buildings.
Roughly a dozen LEED-certified buildings are finished or in the pipeline at institutions across the state. They include the National Weather Service in Caribou; the Gov. Baxter School for the Deaf in Falmouth; the University of Southern Maine in Portland and Gorham; and the East End School in Portland.
But Maine’s private sector has been slow to embrace LEED. The added costs of building a high-performance building and cumbersome paperwork associated with LEED are two factors.
That’s starting to change. A LEED office for Saco & Biddeford Savings Institution is being built in Saco. In Norway, the EnterpriseMaine development group is incorporating LEED standards into the renovation of a historic downtown building. This summer, EnterpriseMaine also plans to break ground for the region’s first LEED-certified office park in Norway.
LEED is a leap of faith for developers. In exchange for paying a bit more money and attention to detail, they hope to create a building with lower operating costs and a healthier, more productive environment. Those benefits should be appealing to tenants, and a selling point at resale.
LEED operates as a rating system and has different levels of certification. Developers accumulate points by meeting specific objectives. A recent tour of 50 Sewall St. shows how attention to detail underlies the LEED approach.
The 44,000-square-foot project was developed by Olympia Development LLC of Portland. It was designed by PDT Architects and built by Ledgewood Construction. The building is being leased – to tenants who can choose how to finish their own work space – so the team is pursuing a basic LEED certification designed for this arrangement.
LEED’s rating system awards points for what the building council calls Sustainable Sites. At 50 Sewall St., the white PVC roof and drought-resistant landscaping will reduce the “heat island” effect of black roofs and parking lots. Bicycle storage and changing rooms, and the building’s proximity to the bus and train station, also add points.
Another category of the rating system is called Energy and Atmosphere. The team sought to optimize energy performance by siting the rectangular building on an east-west axis. In the winter, the building gains heat from the sun through south-facing windows.
Heating and cooling demand also is reduced by layers of foam insulation in the walls and roof. An efficient heat recovery system compensates for temperature differences on the north and south sides of the building, which may vary by 20 degrees on a sunny winter day.
Indoor environmental quality also is important in the ratings. Large windows admit more daylight, which studies show can improve worker productivity. Robert Curtis, an architect with PDT Architects, pointed to overhead duct work that had been sealed during construction to keep pollutants from entering the air-handling system.
Formaldehyde-free carpet, paints and glues with low emissions, wall treatments made from recycled fiber – they all add up to cleaner air that some studies suggest can result in fewer sick days for occupants.
“What’s interesting,” Curtis said, “is what you don’t see. These things have all been integrated seamlessly.”>/p>
Also invisible to the public are the sources of materials and the building practices used to assemble them. LEED awards points for using local products, such as brick and lumber. Extra points go for materials that can have a high recycled content, such as steel beams.
Managing trash is another requirement. Ledgewood Construction pulled out scrap steel, wood, plastic and other recyclables. That took time and attention, but cut disposal costs and preserved landfill space.
“At one point we had eight different Dumpsters,” said Jeff Parry, the project’s supervisor.
Ledgewood has worked on two other LEED buildings, at the University of Maine at Farmington and the East End School. The process becomes easier and more efficient with time, Parry said, as workers become more familiar with the demands of LEED.
A MARKETING TOOL
Ledgewood’s evolution points up some of the obstacles for wider acceptance of LEED in the building trades, according to Danuta Drozdowicz, project manager at Fore Solutions in Portland. The firm is a green building consultant in the United States and Europe.
Building practices are based on experience, she said, and change comes slowly. And until recently, complying with the LEED involved burdensome paperwork. Now the process is done online.
For owners, LEED buildings can be a marketing tool, according to Brett Doney, the chief executive officer at EnterpriseMaine.
His nonprofit development group is working with six towns in the Oxford Hills area to build a 220,000-square-foot LEED-certified office park. They know Norway is off the beaten path for business park development. But entrepreneurs who appreciate the forests and lakes of western Maine may want to set up shop in a building engineered for a healthy environment, Doney said.
That view is shared by Kevin Mahaney, chief executive of The Olympia Co., the parent firm developing 50 Sewall St.
Turning 50 Sewall St. into a green building cost 4 percent to 5 percent more than a conventional office, he said, but the features will make the property easier to lease. Tenants pay their own utilities, so they’ll appreciate the energy savings. Abundant natural light and high indoor air quality also will be selling points, he said, with tenants seeking a productive work environment.
Mahaney’s firm has developed several buildings in Portland, including the Hilton Garden Inn, the DoubleTree renovation and an adjacent office building at 1200 Congress. Fifty Sewall St. is the firm’s first LEED project, but won’t be the last.
“We plan to do almost all our projects to LEED standards going forward,” he said.
The medical office at 50 Sewall St. will open in May. The anchor tenant is Dermatology Associates, which needs more space and is moving 35 employees from its current location on Park Avenue.
Dr. Michael Taylor, a partner in the practice, said he knew about green buildings, but didn’t realize he was moving to one. The news made him happy, he said, and his employees are excited, too. Referring to Toyota’s high-mileage, hybrid car, he said: “It’s like buying a Prius. I think everyone feels good about it.”>/p>