Takin Green to the Office, and the Bank, Chronicle Herald Sunday Jan 13th.2008
Taking green to the office, and the bank
Armour Group’s Park Place V project designed to meet growing demand for commercial space that meets stringent new environmmental standards
By STEVE PROCTOR Business Editor
Sun. Jan 13 - 5:44 AM
WHEN Ben McCrea built Historic Properties on the Halifax waterfront in the mid-1970s, he was the first developer in Atlantic Canada to use sea water for heating and cooling purposes. It was a cutting-edge innovation that helped earn the downtown development accolades for its environmental sensitivity.
Thirty-four years later the chairman of Armour Group says he hopes his new $21-million "green" office complex in Dartmouth will enjoy some of the environmental cachet of his earlier venture.
"We have always been at the forefront of innovation in development in the city, and this development shows we are working to maintain that position," he said in a recent interview. "Our Park Place V project will meet some of the highest environment standards in the country."
When it is completed in the fall, the five-storey 125,000 square foot building in the City of Lakes Business Park will be the province’s first office building certified by the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program, or LEED. It will use 40 per cent less energy and consume 40 per cent less water than existing conventional businesses.
The certification, offered through the Canadian Green Building Council, demands developers meet stringent standards in key environmental areas that include energy efficiency, material selection and indoor environmental quality.
To date just 90 buildings in Canada have received the certification. In Nova Scotia the only certified building is the Nova Scotia Chief and Petty Officers facility at CFB Halifax. But architect Tony Cook of Fowler Bauld and Mitchell said as many as 30 other projects, like the new Nova Scotia Community College Dartmouth campus, may be awaiting official designation.
"The government has taken a bit of a leadership role with this, so a lot of schools have been built to LEED standards," he said. "I think now any project for the departments of Education, Public Works or Transportation need to be LEED compliant. It’s only recently that the private sector is getting on board."
For McCrea, there’s no doubt environmentally sustainable construction is the way of the future.
"Canadians consume three times more energy per capita than the global average," he said. "We’re all going to have to cut down on energy use and reduce our environmental footprint."
But the thrust is more than just getting warm and fuzzy about the environment. Customers are demanding more environmental sustainability. When Nova Scotia Power announced last fall it was looking for new office space, its call for proposals indicated it would look favourably on LEED certified office space. .
"It’s not an absolute requirement, but we anticipate there may eventually be some provincial or federal standards in the future and we want to give developers a signal of the way we’d like to go," said Nova Scotia Power spokeswoman Margaret Murphy.
Similarly, environmental consultant Jacques Whitford of Dartmouth has said LEED certified properties will get the first look when it expands.
Making the changes in the development world is a daunting task that is going to require architects to think differently and subcontractors to work differently, said McCrea.
Even though the Dartmouth project is just beginning to take shape, he said there have been many lessons learned in the planning and design stages that will make it easier for a second and third project.
"It’s not about adding expensive stuff to the building just because you are thinking green; it’s about actually doing things that save money," he said. "We initially thought it would look nice with solar panels on the roof, but from a cost savings point of view, it didn’t make much sense. Commercial buildings don’t use much domestic hot water."
Although the cost of the environmental technology used in the "guts" of a green building is dropping as more people embrace the concept, construction costs for green buildings are higher than for those of their traditional counterparts. McCrea estimates the Park Place V effort will be about seven per cent more expensive to build.
Increased construction costs will translate into a five per cent rental premium, but McCrea insists the payoff for tenants will come in the form of lower utility bills, a healthier workplace for employees, reduced impact on the environment and community goodwill.
Medavie Blue Cross is willing to pay the premium. It will take over half the Armour building in early 2009 when it moves 267 people from its Spectacle Lake Drive building and a smaller location on Brownlow Avenue.
"We want to offer our employees a healthy work environment that will accommodate all employees under one roof and accommodate expansion if future needs arise," Ruth Rappini, Medavie’s vice-president of organizational development, said in a recent release.
While green-certified office buildings are becoming more common, John Lindsay Jr., president of East Port Properties Ltd., says his firm may be the first in the country to get a rental warehouse certified.
"People haven’t been able to get the formula to work for warehouses," he said. "The difficulty has been with energy efficiency, but it is a hurdle we think we’ve overcome."
He said construction of the company’s new 63,000 square-foot warehouse at 122 Dorey Ave. in Dartmouth includes in-floor heating and high levels of insulation.
On the mechanical side, a high-efficiency fluorescent lighting system uses sensors and dimmer switches to feed light to the building as natural lighting fades.
Work on the facility is just wrapping up. Construction costs were 20 per cent above those of a traditional warehouse project, but he said the savings will be recouped by tenants in lower operational costs. He said the company plans to use LEED standards in the next phase of the development but will wait until it sees how the market reacts to the existing space.
LEED certification will offer developers like Armour and East Port a competitive edge for at least the short term, says architect Cook, but he believes the green standards will quickly become the industry norm.
"In a few years there won’t even be a separate process for LEED certification. It will all be part of the design process."
Both Lindsay and McCrea agree the standards will be mainstream fare within a few years but believe the government could be doing more to drive it forward.
"We bid (to offer space) on a federal contract, but despite repeated commitment to the environment, the government hasn’t given Public Works any leeway to pay a little more for a green property," Lindsay said.
"As a result the contact went to an older and less efficient space because of something less than a 10 per cent difference."
McCrea, who has had the same experience, said the feds should look at supporting green buildings as part of their social responsibility.
Some big cities, like Boston and New York City, require new publicly funded projects to meet the equivalent of LEED certification.
Boston is going further, making the same requirement of new privately owned new buildings of at least 50,000 square feet. New York state also promotes green construction through special tax credits.