A Tale of Three Cities

Aug. 3, 2009

Three cities, three clients, three approaches to sustainable design

From the shores of Laguna Beach to the California High Desert and the urban landscape of Los Angeles, design firms are helping cities decide whether the best way to meet green initiatives is to follow LEED or to follow an alternative path to sustainability.

By 2020, more than 75 percent of civic construction projects will fall under the renovation category, and communities will have to grapple with the concepts of sustainability and planning like never before.

This is a story of three California cities, three projects, and three approaches to sustainable design. One city government struggled with the issue of how to mandate green in its community while addressing the concerns of the development community. Another council found itself accepting direction via the vote of its community; another city focused on the return of its investment vs. the costs associated with inaction.

“We’re finding that one size does not fit all, and our role as a design firm is to find not only the right sustainable quotient for each project, but to determine the best delivery method for the agency,” comments architect Jim Wirick, a principal at LPA.  “They all value the concept of sustainability and they want to do it, but the process can be very different from city to city.”

What to Expect: LEED 2009

Just as we’re introducing and demystifying the LEED process for you, the specifics are changing, and it’s more important than ever to select a design team whose work you know, like, and trust. Utilize them, ask questions, and let them partner with you through the process.

Here’s what you can expect in LEED 2009:

  • Reweighting of LEED points to place more emphasis on energy, water, and transportation.
  • Expansion of total available points - to 100 - for all versions of LEED.
  • Harmonization of credits across different versions of LEED.
  • Addition of new regionally specific LEED points.
  • Implementation of a regular, predictable development cycle for future revisions to LEED rating systems.
  • Significant revamp of the LEED Accredited Professional (LEED AP) credentialing program.

Information provided by engineer and LEED AP Erik Ring of LPA Inc.

Laguna Beach Senior and Community Center

Located at the edge of downtown Laguna Beach, the Laguna Beach Senior and Community Center includes an 8,200-square-foot senior center and 8,000-square-foot community center nestled above subterranean parking. The foundation of the building’s design is centered on energy-efficient, green building strategies.

Situated in a u-shape configuration, the senior center is located to the north and the community center to the south. Reflecting the values of the community it serves, the two arms of the building are joined by a shared central spine that embraces the community with an inviting outdoor central courtyard. The multi-generational center features meeting rooms, a banquet hall with kitchen, and an exercise room wrapping around a raised civic plaza.

Early on, the design team worked closely with city staff and community supporters to facilitate an appropriate green design.

 “A citizens group expressed interest in having an eco-friendly building,” says Wirick. “With the same intention in mind, the City carefully weighed a number of green options, including LEED. In the end, the City chose to pursue a sustainable design that entailed many of the same program requirements found in a LEED design.”

With a focus now on environmentally responsibility, designers creatively employed a number of sustainable strategies. Throughout the center, architectural features and materials reinforce the building’s approach to green design. Natural daylight via skylights and solar tubes, and natural ventilation, permeate the facility, cutting down energy costs and providing an inviting interior.

“In terms of the green measures at Laguna, we first started with best practices and understanding where we could be the most cost effective using the components of the project,” says Wirick. “There’s a substantial amount of concrete in the project, so we implemented the use of fly ash as part of the aggregate, reducing water, and adding a recycled content to the concrete mix. There was also significant structural steel, so there is a high recycled content factor. Then, when we went into the interior finishes, carpet, and cabinetry selections, we tried to select products that were sustainable and had that minimum of 10-percent recycled content.”

Additional components include the use of drip irrigation and water-efficient plumbing fixtures, a cool roof, covered parking, and the recycling of 75 percent of the construction waste.

The project budget was $15.3 million, and construction was completed on schedule in January 2009.

Hesperia Civic Center, Library, & City Hall
Seventy-five miles northeast of Orange County, amongst the juniper, Joshua trees, and sagebrush of the Mojave Desert, the City of Hesperia is experiencing a green makeover.

“It’s an interesting segue because, when we started the Laguna Beach project in 2001, LEED was not as well established as it is today. We had completed the first LEED-NC project in the country just 2 years earlier,” explains Dan Heinfeld, president of LPA. “Fast forward to 2007, and we find the Hesperia in the High Desert, committed to the LEED process and sustainable buildings as it rolls out its new police department.”

Known for years as The City of Progress, Hesperia continues to stay true to its former moniker with the establishment of a 27-acre civic center master plan, featuring a 20,000-square-foot San Bernardino County branch library and the construction of a new 50,000-square-foot city hall. These buildings provide the major components of council chambers, a public service counter, city offices, and a library with community, technology, and meeting rooms, which create a civic plaza that is the $31.4 million centerpiece of a revitalized downtown master plan.

Funded by a California Library Grant, the new Hesperia Branch Library exceeds Title 24 requirements by 33 points. Despite having the largest circulation of any library in San Bernardino County, the old facility occupied only 4,800 square feet. Architects designed the new, 20,000-square-foot building to take advantage of natural light and included a computer training room for 20, a learning and career resource area, and a separate young adult area.

The city hall and library buildings were constructed of reinforced concrete tilt-up and steel structures on 9.7 acres. Both were completed on schedule and under budget, in time for Hesperia’s 20th anniversary. Additionally, the Hesperia City Hall and Library project, managed by Griffin Structures of Laguna Beach, received a 2007 American Public Works Association award.

“With the County of San Bernardino, we’re looking to do a High Desert Government Center. And, in like fashion, the County of San Bernardino is committed to the LEED-certified process. Where does that come from? That comes from the county supervisors and their acknowledgement of the benefits from an interior environment for their employees, as well as an option to teach the public about sustainable design,” describes Heinfeld.

One of the ongoing challenges and opportunities is Hesperia’s location, which is high in the Mojave Desert. The ambient temperatures can swing between the 20s in the winter to more than 100 degrees F. in the summer, and may swing as much as 35 degrees F. in a single day. The design of the building envelope (insulation levels, glazing placement and selection, window shading, etc.) plays a more critical role in controlling indoor comfort and building energy use in Hesperia than for projects in mild, coastal climates.

Building in Hesperia is different than building in Anchorage and it’s different than building in Boston, and the environmental responses should also be different. The LEED system is actually recognizing these differences by adding local and regional points to the 2009 rating system.

“We know the strategies and how to provide an efficient sustainable project,” says Heinfeld. “Decision-makers must tell us what they value so that we can provide them with the green solution for their specific site and facility.”

Los Angeles County Old Town Newhall Library

Just 25 minutes from the hustle and bustle of Los Angeles, Santa Clarita features a PGA champion tour golf course, theme parks, a world-class aquatics center, and numerous historical sites – one of which is the historic Newhall Library. As it charted the new and unknown territories of technology and the Internet, the library will maneuver through and execute the process of LEED certification.

Founded in 1916, the Newhall library houses more than 81,100 books, 5,400 audio recordings, and 4,650 video and DVD visuals. Its current location is at the corner of Walnut and 9th Streets, with two previous locations before that. The next destination for the historic library is Old Town Newhall, a mixed-use revitalization project in the heart of Santa Clarita, CA. Old Town Newhall is a 271-acre site with historic points of interest, a community center, a Metrolink station, and a thriving arts scene.

Since the City of Santa Clarita mandated that all future projects achieve LEED Silver certification, the Old Town Newhall Library building will be no exception. The Santa Clarita area has always relied on a close association with a spectacular natural setting. This association has led to a respect for the environment, which has manifested itself in creating buildings that respect nature and nature’s resources.

To stay ahead of the sustainability curve, the city council has worked diligently with the architectural firm and the residents throughout the conceptual design phase. Interactive community workshops have given residents opportunities to participate in group discussions and vision exercises with the design team.

“The addition of the Downtown Newhall Library will serve to shape the future of Old Town Newhall, as well as the future of our local youth, who should benefit greatly from the access they will have to a modern and innovative facility,” says Alex Hernandez, administrative analyst for the City of Santa Clarita.

Features to look forward to when the Old Town Newhall Library is completed include a large community meeting space, a public garden, a vibrant children’s area, a local history department, and a heritage reading room. Historic references and public art will root this eco-friendly library into the eclectic and rich history of the community.

Richard D’Amato has been with LPA Inc. for more than 20 years. He is currently in the role of senior design principal. He can be reached at [email protected].

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