State works toward building big — and green

Source: http://www.gazette.net, June 10, 2011
By: Chris Huntemann

Maryland companies working to make state leader in green building

Constructing more energy-efficient and environmentally friendly buildings is becoming a major money-maker for some Maryland companies.

For example, Morgan-Keller Construction in Frederick says the percentage of its “green” building projects has jumped from 25 percent to more than 75 percent during the last few years.

But overall, Montgomery, Prince George’s, Frederick and Charles counties collectively ranked last in green building projects in an inaugural study released this year by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments. The study also evaluated Washington, D.C., and Northern Virginia, comprising Fairfax, Loudon and Prince William counties, based on the number of building projects that were constructed and certified in the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program from 2003 to 2009.

The Maryland counties had a combined 40 LEED-certified building projects, totaling 3.8 million square feet, according to the study. Washington led the way with 72 projects and 12.5 million square feet, followed by the Northern Virginia counties with 59 projects and 6.6 million square feet. The LEED program ranks buildings based on their way of life.”

“The D.C.-Baltimore area is becoming a big leader” in green building, Adgate said, with leadership from government agencies and tenants’ desire to be greener driving the industry.

Morgan-Keller, which also has an office in Columbia, has worked on eight LEED-certified projects in Maryland, including two buildings at the Station Ridge Office Park in Hanover, at a total cost of $20.11 million, and the Charles E. Miller Library in Ellicott City, at a total cost of $15.23 million. The projects received gold and silver certification, respectively. The company has completed or is currently building LEED-certified projects in Brunswick, Frederick, Gaithersburg, Laytonsville, Millersville and Aberdeen.

Private developers are becoming more interested in green building “for the [public relations] and for wanting to do the right thing,” Adgate said. “The heart of the idea is something that needs to happen people are realizing construction has been a major contributor to pollution.”

Benefits go beyond environmental

Environmental responsibility is a chief component of the pipeline at the Bozzuto Group in Greenbelt, according to Eric Fenton, a development manager at Bozzuto Development, a company division.

Bozzuto primarily offers multifamily rental housing development services and works on projects that range from $8 million for renovation to $60 million for complete construction services, Fenton said. Bozzuto’s LEED-certified building projects include the Fitzgerald apartment complex in Baltimore, which cost $59 million to build, and Grandmarc at Mazza, a student apartment complex in College Park that cost $43 million, according to company information.

“Going forward most of our projects will be LEED,” Fenton said. “People were less experienced at first, but now it’s more regular.”

The LEED system was developed in 2000 and serves as a “nutrition label for buildings,” measuring how much energy and natural resources they are using, said Ashley Katz, spokeswoman for the U.S. Green Building Council in Washington. LEED points are awarded on a 100-point scale, and credits that can be achieved through the system are weighted to reflect their potential environmental impacts, according to the nonprofit’s website.

However, the benefits of LEED are beginning to be felt in places other than just bulidings.

“Whole neighborhoods are trying to become green,” Katz said. “It goes beyond building. It also looks at infrastructure, including public transit.”

Adgate noted that builders also are erasing the stigma that it costs more to build green, adding that “there is plenty you can do that will add minimal cost, if any.”

“You can get more return with a more efficient building,” Adgate said. “There are many LEED credits to achieve that don’t cost anything because they’re standard practices already.”

The Tower Oaks office building at 2000 Tower Oaks Blvd. in Rockville is a LEED platinum-certified structure the highest certification and is considered one of the most environmentally friendly office buildings in the state. Jeffery Abramson, a partner with Tower Cos., which specializes in green building, said, “It’s a little bit more money up front, but you are going to save that money in the long term because the building is more efficient.”

Historically, green buildings do have an upfront cost premium, but as LEED construction becomes more mainstream the costs are tracking downward toward little to no extra cost, said Christopher J. Flaherty, project manager and sustainability program manager for Hess Construction & Engineering Services of Gaithersburg, in an email to The Gazette.

Hess has completed or is currently working on 16 LEED-certified projects and has 12 LEED-accredited professionals on staff, Flaherty said. The company has implemented LEED features at several public schools, including Great Seneca Creek Elementary School in Germantown, Paint Branch High School in Burtonsville and Oxon Hill High School.

“Additionally, much of, if not all of, the upfront cost premiums are offset by the cost savings from energy use reduction as a result of the higher efficiency building envelope and [heating, ventilation and air conditioning] system,” Flaherty said.

‘Right thing to do for employees’

Other companies have hopped on the LEED bandwagon, including PNC Bank, which has 16 branches that are either LEED-certified or in the process of receiving their certification, said Gary Jay Saulson, director of corporate real estate for PNC Financial Services Group of Pittsburgh, parent of PNC Bank.

The oldest LEED-certified PNC branch is in Bowie, Saulson said. The company also is relocating its Baltimore regional headquarters into a new space designed to achieve LEED certification for commercial interiors. The new Baltimore office will feature more energy-efficient lighting, furniture fabrics made from environmentally safe products and an on-site water purification system, according to PNC.

“This is the right thing to do for our employees and the community we do business in,” Saulson said, adding that the new space will also have more of an open-air working environment.

“We want them to enjoy their working environment,” he said.

Bozzuto also is listening to the demands of residents of its properties and installing features that not only add convenience for them but make Bozzuto properties greener, including a charging station for electric vehicles.

“There’s a lot of activity around electric vehicles,” Fenton said. “They’re not prevalent on the road now, but I think they will be.”

Solar panels have cut energy costs up to 15 percent in the common areas of Bozzuto’s multifamily units, according to Fenton.

Marriott International of Bethesda has about 85 hotels across all of its brands that are LEED-certified or registered by the Green Building Council, according to company information. They include the Inn and Conference Center by Marriott at the University of Maryland University College in Adelphi, which was the first hotel and conference center to receive LEED certification in the U.S., according to Marriott information.

The company has reduced its energy consumption by 11 percent, greenhouse gas emissions by 10.7 percent and water consumption by 8.2 percent per available room in the last two years, company officials said in a statement.

Maryland will become leader

Although Montgomery, Prince George’s, Frederick and Charles counties collectively finished last in the Council of Governments study, industry observers agree that it’s a matter of when, not if, Maryland rises to the top.

“Maryland in general has been a big leader,” Katz said, noting that several municipalities in the state offer their own incentives and expedite the permitting process for green building projects.

Katz said she thinks Washington topped the list because of the near-ubiquity of public transportation, which counts for LEED points, and the federal government. Fenton agreed.

“The D.C. economy has held firm and been more robust,” he said. “It’s been insulated by the federal government and took less of a hit, so more building has been taking place.”

Fenton, with Bozzuto, said Washington “is always leading the way” in green building, “but Maryland is fairly progressive Baltimore has their own green building standards.”

“More municipalities and counties should adopt more guidelines,” Fenton said. The smart growth occurring in Montgomery County, particularly near transit and city centers, will raise awareness of green building, according to Katz.

“People didn’t used to know what green building was, but existing buildings are being renovated,” she said.

Adgate agreed, and said Morgan-Keller made a point to have its personnel receive training and LEED certification.

“We wanted to understand what LEED is and want to learn what’s coming down the pike,” he said. “It’s smart to educate yourself.”

The council’s study is consistent with the green building trends in the academic market, according to Hess’ Flaherty. For Maryland to close the gap on Washington, more education and hard evidence should be presented to decision-makers of potential green building projects, he said.

“While the metro DC area are always the front runners, I believe other jurisdictions have been waiting for proof that green building is beneficial and saves money in the long run and that the technologies utilized are proven before implementing on a system-wide basis,” he said in his email.

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