PA DEP: Learning and Leading the Way

Green building is flourishing from one end of Pennsylvania to the other, with plenty of activity in the middle. Governor Ridge’s Growing Greener Initiative includes a requirement for state buildings, either leased or owned, to meet green guidelines.  The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) in Harrisburg has provided a model for this initiative and two DEP buildings, the Southcentral Regional Office and the Ebensburg District Office, were built by a private developer in accordance with the guidelines and then leased to the state.

The Southcentral Regional Office, completed in 1998, was constructed on a brownfield site and incorporates natural lighting and a raised floor system, in addition to many other green features and materials.  At $78 per square foot, the construction costs for this building were kept within the average for conventional construction in this market.  The energy savings are estimated to be $50,000 annually.

Green buildings not only perform better in terms of resources used, but they also create better environments for their occupants.  Employees at the Southcentral office have reportedly been enthusiastic over their involvement with the property’s landscaping, including an herb garden, butterfly bushes, no mow grass, a wildflower meadow, built wetlands area and the creation of a nature trail which connects to Harrisburg’s Greenbelt trail system.  All plants used were indigenous and very low maintenance.

With lessons learned from the Southcentral office and the increased availability of greener materials and technologies, the Ebensburg District Office is working to be even greener.  With expected completion this spring, the Ebensburg building is oriented and shaded to minimize both cooling and heating loads, and uses insulated concrete forms and operable windows in its envelope.  A computer software program is being utilized to assess the life cycle impacts of various materials and has already aided in roofing and paving material selection.  Using the criteria of the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system as a tool, the building design qualifies for a silver rating.

John Boecker, an architect for both DEP buildings, stresses the importance of rejecting the one-size-fits-all approach to building.  Instead, he advocates the careful crafting of a project to its context and teamwork to make the smartest project-specific decisions.  “It is entirely inappropriate to transport design outcomes,” he says.

While the DEP operates both buildings and reaps most of the green benefits such as energy savings, the first costs have been paid by the private developers that lease the buildings. This arrangement constrains the decisions more than an owner-occupied scenario and drives the team to eliminate redundancy and downsize or displace systems.  “The goal is to realize life cycle benefits at no additional first costs,” John notes.

Both DEP buildings have received wide acclaim and have jointly been selected to be one of only three U.S. projects highlighted in the Sustainable Building 2000 conference in Amsterdam.

Project Team for the DEP Southcentral Office and Ebensburg District Office:Jim Toothaker, director, PA Department of Environmental Protection

John Boecker, architect/principal, Kulp Boecker Architects, P.C.

Marcus Sheffer, engineer/consultant, Energy Opportunities

Scot Horst, engineer/president, Horst, Inc.

See more details on the DEP office in Ebensburg here.

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