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More new construction adopting 'green' design Aim is to create energy-efficient, healthy workplaces

A new color is catching on in construction: green.

Some new projects, like the massive HealthNow New York office complex opening downtown, are aiming to be environmentally sensitive in everything from the building materials they use to the lighting systems in their offices.

Proponents say the payoff from "going green" comes in the form of lower utility bills, a healthier workplace for employees, reduced impact on the environment, and community goodwill.

Just a few years ago, using green-friendly ideas to meticulously guide the design of a building was uncommon, a nice idea for some other project to try. But the trend is showing up in a growing number of places; many cities are embracing the objectives for public projects.

"Everyone wants to go green nowadays," said Ryan Hughes, project manager for AEC, a Colorado architectural firm that has served as a consultant on the HealthNow New York complex.

The U.S. Green Building Council has helped steer green construction from an "alternative" concept toward the mainstream, with its widely used project checklist. The scoring system, known as Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design, or LEED for short, rates whether a building hits a range of targets beneficial to the environment.

Four area buildings have earned LEED certification: Audubon Machinery in North Tonawanda, the Niagara Falls Bridge Commission in the Town of Lewiston, Creekside Village Community Center at the University at Buffalo in Amherst, and the Harris Hill Fire Hall in Amherst.

Many more projects, including schools, businesses and government buildings, have registered with LEED, but haven't had their results verified by a third party. Some of those projects are still under construction, while others opted not to go through the rigorous follow-up process.

A new building can earn LEED points for lots of things. An exemplary project would reuse a brownfield, enable employees to get to their jobs on bikes or buses, significantly reduce its water and energy use, and allow ample daylight in work spaces, to name some of the features. It would also safeguard indoor air quality, minimize construction waste that goes into landfills, and acquire building materials within 500 miles of the site.

The granddaddy of the region's LEED buildings -- HealthNow's complex -- is scheduled to open this summer. At 469,000 square feet, it will be the largest LEED-certified building in the region, once its results are verified. HealthNow is the parent company of BlueCross BlueShield of Western New York.

HealthNow officials say they are especially proud they are building on the region's largest brownfield cleanup project, the former Buffalo Gas Light Co. site on West Genesee Street.

Alphonso O'Neil-White, president and chief executive officer of HealthNow New York, said his organization early on committed to building an environmentally sensitive complex on the site. HealthNow then learned about the LEED system and decided pursuing certification was a good fit, he said.

Commuters on the Niagara Thruway already know the complex's signature feature: its glass curtain wall, containing 95,000 square feet of glass. What is less obvious to passers-by is how the windows will help the complex conserve energy and create a more pleasant setting for employees.

The building's indoor lighting will adjust to the outdoor light, O'Neil-White said: If the sun is shining brightly into the work spaces, the indoor lights dim accordingly.

Light shelves on the building help regulate the amount of sunlight entering the building. The goal is to give employees comfortable access to as much natural light as possible.

"The building has light everywhere," O'Neil-White said.

The complex contains other green elements, like a white roof that reflects heat rather than absorbing it, and an energy recovery wheel that heats air coming in from outside the building.

O'Neil-White said HealthNow sees the complex as a catalyst for other downtown development. He also hopes other projects will follow its example of an environmentally conscious building.

h Ciminelli goes green1 Ciminelli Development is making its own push into green construction.

Two of its employees, Kirk Burzynski and Timothy Vaeth, have become LEED accredited professionals. Architects and engineers are usually the ones who get accredited. But Ciminelli officials say by having accredited people on its staff, a developer can marry a green project's design needs and budget.

"We are the quarterback of the team," said Vaeth, a project manager.

Vaeth and Burzynski, who is director of development, say a building with LEED certification can be more attractive to tenants, since it ensures a healthy working environment for employees. They also say it can boost a property's value, since the building boasts greater energy efficiency.

A green project used to cost about 20 percent more to build than a comparable, conventional building, Burzynski said. "Now I think you're finding if you get a project team on board, there's no added cost or a slight premium, and that can be offset by incentives," he said.

Ciminelli is working with mechanical contractor J.W. Danforth Co. on a green building in Victor, southeast of Rochester. Danforth's top executive said he was eager to pursue LEED certification, and is shooting for the silver level.

"We decided this is where the future is," said Kevin "Duke" Reilly, chief executive officer and chairman of J.W. Danforth. "Everyone is interested in being green."

Reilly said by "living green" through its new building in Victor, Danforth will show it is committed to environmentally conscious projects. Reilly said the building will involve some additional costs, but he likened it to paying more for a higher-efficiency hot water tank. He expects to see long-run benefits like lower energy costs, as well as improved employee productivity.

"How do you put a value on employee morale?" Reilly said.

>Legislating green

Some big cities, like Boston, New York City and the District of Columbia, are embracing green standards for buildings, requiring new publicly funded projects of a certain size or scope to meet the equivalent of LEED certification. Boston is going further, making that same requirement of new privately owned new buildings of at least 50,000 square feet. New York State promotes green construction through special tax credits.

Jeffrey LiPuma, managing partner of CB Richard Ellis' Buffalo office, said governments' emphasis on green building should have a ripple effect in helping those types of projects gain wider acceptance.

"I think it definitely helps break the barrier of doing a LEED building," said LiPuma, who is tenant representative for the HealthNow complex.

Hughes, the project manager for AEC, said building owners will also see the value in energy savings, by reducing their operating expenses. "As the energy costs go up, I think that is going to be the driving factor," he said.

While many projects are pursuing green goals, not all of them go through LEED's certification process. Some owners balk at the cost or the amount of documentation involved. Certification can cost several thousand dollars, but agencies such as the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority offer grants to help offset the costs.

Some projects simply "register" their projects through LEED, the initial step in the process. That fee costs $450 or $600, but it means a company's planned green efforts aren't verified under LEED.

Tracie Hall, executive director of USGBC's Upstate chapter, acknowledged not every registered project goes through the certification process.

"We are just thrilled that they are working to incorporate green aspects into their building," she said.

Hall said the cost to certify varies widely. But she compared the expense to earning a college diploma, and said a building owner benefits from the publicity and visibility that comes with LEED status. The scoring system has gone into wider use, including for building renovations and residential projects.

As familiarity with the system spreads and more projects save on energy costs and resources, she said, others will be inclined to follow LEED's path.

"The number of registered projects in our region continues to grow," she said.

e-mail: mglynn@buffnews.com

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