“The CCI Center is a manifestation of one of Pittsburgh’s premier environmental non-profits,” asserts Bob Kobet of Sustain Aissance International, “and exemplifies Conservation Consultants, Inc.’s pro-active leadership.” As an architect who worked on the initial greening of the Center, Kobet knows that CCI conceived a sustainable building from the outset and envisioned it housing multiple related non-profit organizations, as it does. Through the Center, Pittsburgh’s first LEED-EB (Existing Buildings)-rated structure, CCI reaffirms its dedication to the environment and to the health and comfort of its occupants with its emphasis on continuing green operations and maintenance.
From the time of its incorporation in 1979, CCI began planning for the creation of the Energy House, a demonstration project in Highland Park. Starting in 1989 and for the next four years, the house was used as a hands-on showcase for energy-efficient remodeling. As the organization grew over time, however, a larger, more flexible building was needed. When CCI purchased an 83-year-old former art gallery on Pittsburgh’s historic South Side in 1993, Executive Director Ann Gerace’s vision of a high performance workspace began to materialize.
“We viewed it as an opportunity to integrate energy-saving devices and environmentally-friendly materials into a viable building,” she explains, “and stay consistent with our mission of preserving Western Pennsylvania’s resources.”
Because the environmental construction industry has grown quite a bit in recent years, the creation of a high performance green building is much more common today then it was just over a decade ago when the CCI Center was designed. As a pioneer in the green building movement, incorporating environmental principles during construction was a struggle, according to Gerace. “There was no LEED rating system to look to for standards at the time and all of our sustainable building products had to come from California. That was a tough decision and we had to weigh the benefits of using environmentally friendly items against the drawbacks of transporting the products such a distance.”
Another issue involved having to teach on-site contractors to view the building from a different perspective. “We had to follow them around for awhile,” smiles Gerace, “to make sure, for example, they didn’t cut holes in the wall where they normally would and throw off our larger plan for the building envelope.
“It was very hard back then, since everything we thought we should do was so expensive and the right products were difficult to obtain. We had to be very committed to our philosophy, not just in more traditional ways, but also in our tenant selection and a related education process. There was no point in us building a great center if its occupants were toxifying it with hazardous cleaners or paints.”
Thankfully, current tenants of the building all share similar beliefs on both the natural and built environments and enjoy the benefits of being in a green structure. One occupant, Nichole Feczko of Healthy Homes Resources, explains, “Part of my job is performing environmental assessments of residences in the community and I often see the bad side of buildings, including sick building syndrome. Sometimes the situation is due to chemicals and sometimes it’s related to the occupant, but I sure feel better knowing that many of these risk factors simply aren’t present in the CCI Center.”
To help combat potential causes of sick buildings, the CCI Center exceeds ASHRAE 62: “Ventilation for Acceptable Indoor Air Quality,” and features operable windows and fans to increase ventilation effectiveness. All materials are finished with no- or low-level VOCs to improve air quality, and a policy is in place to meet this standard for all future work. Over 91% of interior spaces have exterior views and gardens are accessible from every floor, including a rooftop garden on the third story.
Other benefits of the CCI Center are financial. Over $12,000 is saved annually on energy costs compared to a standard office building, with a four-year payback period. The reduced energy consumption reduces CO2 emissions by six million pounds annually and the building’s recycling program diverts 960 pounds of glass and plastic; 1,200 pounds of cardboard; and 3,600 pounds of paper from landfills every year. Kobet sees more to CCI, however, than statistics. “The project needs to be viewed as the sum of its parts. What really makes this building shine is its ‘larger picture,’ how it pulls together diverse parts of the environmental community just as it promotes integrated, whole-building design practices.”
See more details on the CCI Center here.