Making a sustainable leader

April 18, 2010
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When the Grand Action Committee unveiled its proposal for a new downtown market last month, co-chairmen David Frey and John Canepa said if the project is to be a successful venture, it also had to be a sustainable development. In fact, the committee set gaining a LEED certification and an Energy Star rating as goals.

After all, $27 million was the committee’s estimate to design and build 178,000 square feet of space dedicated to locally grown and made products, and that money, once it’s raised, would have to be spent wisely. So Grand Action incorporated a laundry list of green elements into the design and construction plans that include: possibly using geothermal as an energy source; building a greenhouse that not only has a green roof but also captures heat; handling waste through composting, recycling and cogeneration; and metering energy and water usage.

Ted Spitzer, president of Market Ventures Inc. and the consultant chosen by Grand Action for the project, said sustainability should be an issue for such a development because markets such as the one proposed here have histories of creating a lot of waste from food and using a lot of energy to light, heat and cool.

“A market is also like a supermarket. There is a lot of light and there is refrigeration and there is cooking, and those all require energy. And typically you also have to condition the space, whether it’s heating or it’s air conditioning. Because you have all this energy going into it, there are opportunities for being more efficient with it. There is also a good amount of water being used,” said Spitzer in a phone conversation from his office in Portland, Maine.

“A successful market attracts a lot of people, so there is a pretty intense use in a relatively small space.”

The market would be developed across 3.5 acres on Ionia Avenue SW just south of Wealthy Street. The site, which the Downtown Development Authority owns and is willing to part with, has six buildings of various sizes on the property. And Spitzer pointed out that the first step in creating a truly sustainable development is to reuse those structures.

The project’s key building was once home to the Sonneveldt Produce Co., and Spitzer said the structure’s all-wood interior was in terrific shape. Carefully renovating the buildings by using existing materials and adding green ones would create an atmosphere for the market. The right atmosphere, though, will also depend on the market’s overall lighting capability.

“We will be able to use as much natural light as we can, while still being in a food environment. Natural light and foods are problematic because both change all the time and you want to have a nice display. So, there is a balance between using the natural light and we will also, of course, need some consistent light there,” he said.

The market’s refrigeration system will be another vital factor to its success, and how the system is set up to keep the fish, fruit, meats and produce fresh will not only play a key role in its eventual fiscal success but also in how sustainable it will be over time and how affordable it will be to operate each year. This project has a relatively new method of accomplishing that.

“Clustering the compressors is an opportunity to save energy rather than having them be a self-contained unit, which is what happens in most public markets. That’s what we did in the Milwaukee Public Market and it has worked out very well in lower operating costs for the vendors and for more efficiency,” said Spitzer, who consulted on that development, too.

“But there is also an irony. By creating cold in a display case, you also have to make heat to run the compressors.”

Spitzer said the development would explore using a geothermal system as a way to heat and cool the market — a method being used by schools in the region and by Kent County at its 63rd District Courthouse. The market will encourage vendors to use less energy and water via metering systems that will record their use and then bill them for it. Food waste will be handled by recycling, composting and a cogeneration of vegetable oil. The waste from the oil would be used as a fuel to create heat for a portion of the market instead of having to pay someone to haul the waste away.

“There is a good amount of food waste that is created in a market. So we’re going to be encouraging vendors to use compostable plates and utensils. It’s something else that we’ll be looking into for those that are serving prepared food,” said Spitzer, who added that patrons will likely be asked to use reusable bags when they shop.

“Grand Action wanted to have this project really be a leader in environmental sustainability, which is tough to do in Grand Rapids because you all have really adopted that mantra and are doing some very exciting things. So we had to look for some new ideas to be out in front.”

Potentially, the most innovative sustainable star of the market that may put Grand Action in front of the pack is the proposed greenhouse. Not only would the glass structure have a green roof — a feature that has gained in popularity locally — this greenhouse may have the ability to actually capture heat from other sources in the market for its use.

“We haven’t figured out the engineering yet, so this is all a bit of speculation at this point,” said Spitzer. “But the concept is to be able to capture the heat that’s being created by those (refrigeration) compressors and, perhaps, even by cooking, and the heat that is going through the market and use that as one of the heat sources that would provide the temperature that we’d like inside the greenhouse. Of course, being right on the roof, it’s easy access for that heat.”

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