Kent County Doing Two LEED Projects

August 24, 2008
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GRAND RAPIDS — Kent County has two new construction projects this year worth roughly $36 million, and county officials will seek LEED certification for both.

One is the $27 million Kent County Consolidated Human Services Complex going up at 121 Franklin St. SE in Grand Rapids. When it’s done, the 127,000-square-foot structure will serve as a new home for the Department of Human Services, the Area Community Service Employment and Training agency and the Sheldon Health Clinic, which is operated by the county’s health department.

The other is a 40,000-square-foot courthouse the county is getting set to build for the consolidation of the 63rd District Court on 5.3 acres at Knapp Street, just east of East Beltline Avenue in Grand Rapids Township. The county is spending about $9 million on the project, a price tag that includes the cost for the former orchard and its cleanup. It plans to seek silver LEED certification for the building.

The buildings are the first LEED projects the county has undertaken.

“We’re doing them because we subscribe to the value that the LEED process will help us lower operating costs, conserve energy and offer a healthier and safer environment for the occupants. Those are the reasons that we’re going to certify those buildings as LEED,” said Robert Mihos, director of facility management for the county.

“We cared about all those things in all our previous facilities. But now that there is a formal process in place, we’re going to follow that,” he added.

As builders and architects know, following the LEED guidelines established by the U.S. Green Building Council can make a building more expensive to construct and that is the case for both of the county’s new structures. But Mihos said spending more now will let the county save even more in both buildings’ future operating costs.

“We’re looking at lifecycle costs, throughout the life of a facility. Typically, the county owns a facility for a very long time. So if you consider rising energy costs and things like that, there is probably an initial cost increase (to build). But over the life of the building, it’s going to pay itself back and be a good investment,” he said.

The payback for the courthouse, for example, will come in the form of lower energy costs because the county will install a geothermal heating and cooling system in the building. The county is spending $645,000 for the system. Mihos said that expense would be recaptured in about 10 years through lower utility costs. A geothermal system can cut heating bills by as much as 50 percent and lower cooling costs by up to 30 percent compared to conventional systems.

Adding the geothermal system convinced county officials that they could get a higher LEED rating for the courthouse.

“We were going to seek LEED certification and it probably would have been base-certified without the geothermal. But some things that we’ve done, including the geothermal, will hopefully push us into LEED Silver,” said Mihos.

The process to get a silver LEED rating will cost the county about $100,000. Mihos said that money will cover charges from the USGBC to have the building registered, tracked and validated; from a third-party mechanical contractor to confirm that the system has been properly installed and is operating at maximum efficiency; and from the general contractor to validate that the construction waste has been recycled.

“And there is a building modeling, with an energy simulation, that is required to predict what the energy costs and energy use of the facility will be. So those are the kind of costs that go into that fee,” said Mihos.

“The geothermal at the courthouse will be the first system that we’ve done.”

Work on the Human Services Complex has been under way since January and should be completed next May. The county hopes to start construction on the courthouse next month and open the building in October 2009.

But Rockford officials have taken legal action to stop the county from merging the court in their city with the one in Cascade Township at the new building, so a firm starting date for construction hasn’t been set. County Administrator and Controller Daryl Delabbio said consolidating the two courts into a single location would save the county $11.5 million over 50 years.

Design Plus is the architect for the Human Services Complex, with the Christman Co. managing the building’s construction. Post Associates designed the 63rd District courthouse; the county expects to select a general contractor for the project any day now.

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