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Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

The building's long axis runs east and west to allow maximum northern and southern exposure. © Ryan Photography, Courtesy of Berners-Schober Associates
The NER building's long axis runs east and west to allow maximum northern and southern exposure.

© Ryan Photography, Courtesy of
Berners-Schober Associates

June 2006

Naturally green by design

Two new DNR buildings are easy on the eyes and the environment.

Annette Weissbach

Whole building design | Elements of green style
Another sparkling new green gem | What we use to build
More on green building

Since January 2005, a dozen or so tours of the DNR's Northeast Regional (NER) Headquarters in Green Bay have showcased the green thinking in every phase of the new building's design, construction, operation and landscaping. On every tour, participants nod heads in agreement: "Who else but the DNR to build an environmentally friendly building!"

Whole building design

Everyone knows the Department of Natural Resources aims to protect and enhance the environment. In this project, the agency led by example. The building is Wisconsin's first green state office building to receive gold LEEDTM certification from the U.S. Green Building Council. LEED – Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design – recognizes environmentally friendly, energy-efficient buildings that provide a quality indoor environment.

Green building is not a new idea, but Ian Griffiths, project manager at Berners-Schober Associates Inc. of Green Bay, the architectural/engineering firm responsible for the design, spent a lot of time collaborating with his clients to plan a building that could operate in a more environmentally sustainable way.

"The focus of the NER building was not as much on gadgets, controls and technology, but rather on a design that integrated form with efficient building systems to improve both human performance and reduce energy consumption," Griffiths said.

In 2000, then-DNR secretary George Meyer wrote to Bob Brandherm, former administrator of the state Division of State Facilities (DSF) indicating DNR's intent to "construct our new Northeast Regional Headquarters and its environs with strong sustainable building principles in mind." The agencies jointly took on the new building as a green building demonstration project.

What we use to build
Buildings consume or are responsible for:

40% of the world's total energy use

30% of raw materials consumption

25% of timber harvest

35% of the world's CO2 emissions

16% of fresh water withdrawal

40% of municipal solid waste destined for local landfills

50% of ozone-depleting CFCs still in use

Buildings also affect watersheds, habitat, air quality, and community transportation patterns.

(Source: Worldwatch Paper #124))

When state-owned buildings are built or renovated, agencies must first receive approval from the State Building Commission. With this building, commission members kept hearing "over and over again about sustainable design and LEED standards," said Rick Hartig, the DSF project manager. The project became a catalyst for developing sustainable building guidelines for energy standards, use of daylight, and recycling. Currently undergoing peer review, the guidelines will become part of Wisconsin Building Commission Policy in the near future.

By spring of 2005, the new building was ready. DNR offices formerly spread among four buildings in the Green Bay area were consolidated into the three-story, 34,560 square-foot structure with a 13,835 square-foot service building.

"We were spending $250,000 a year maintaining and renting three of our four offices in Green Bay," said Ron Kazmierczak, director of DNR's Northeast Region. "Now with our regional staff in one building it is much easier to work as a team."

It's more economical too. Energy costs are expected to be less than half that of similar-sized offices and the layout is convenient for workers and customers alike."It is so wonderful to just walk across the parking lot and get all my field equipment in minutes!" said Mary Gansberg, a water quality biologist previously housed in one of the annex offices.

The NER building shows commercial office space can be built economically and operate efficiently. According to the Department of Energy, buildings consume 60 percent of our electricity and $40 billion is spent annually in the U.S. to air-condition buildings – one sixth of all electricity generated in a year.

Elements of green style

The designer and contractors focused on five main areas to realize the goal of creating a sustainable structure: making the best use of the building site; incorporating natural light; minimizing, reusing or recycling construction waste; selecting appropriate materials to construct the building and outfit the interior; and using smart energy sources for efficient heating and cooling. Here's how it was done.

Attractive, functional site design
Even the parking lot received careful scrutiny on this project. Combining the entrance road and staff parking area into one roadway resulted in less paved surface and less stormwater runoff. All runoff flows toward the center rain garden, where mesic prairie plants filter and absorb it. Excess water drains slowly toward a pond, solids settle, and eventually the naturally cleaned overflow water enters Lancaster Brook north of the building.

The view to the north is spectacular and will only get better. In a few years when the recently planted native prairie is fully established, the building site and the rest of the property will blend into a succession of vegetation from prairie to wetland to mature forest with trails linking the DNR property to the existing trail network along the Lancaster Brook Greenway. Within walking distance directly to the east, the Village Center of Howard will eventually take shape, with a mix of medium- and high-density neighborhoods, commercial anchors, parks and greenways.

The narrow three-story building is built on a slope, minimizing its footprint on the site and providing ample opportunity for large windows to bring natural daylight far into the interior of the building. Oriented with its long axis running east-west, the building has maximum southern and northern exposure. Ever notice how many blinds are drawn on commercial office windows? Most windows, especially those with east and west exposure, typically let in too much heat and glare. Daylit buildings are designed to take full advantage of open northern exposures and use creative ways to enjoy southern exposures. Along the structure's two-story south side, a combination of interior light shelves, exterior overhangs and a landscape trellis reduce glare and heat gain in the interior. The three-story north side has walls of windows to provide extensive "cool" daylighting.

Recycling construction waste
Green building aims to minimize construction waste. In constructing the DNR's new office building, a strict goal was set to divert at least 75 percent of waste material by weight from landfills through reuse, salvaging or recycling. The construction manager (Boldt Company of Appleton) was directed to significantly reduce the volume of landfill waste and simultaneously feed local recycling businesses. Boldt completed a Construction Waste Plan tailored to the site, the building and local recycling opportunities.

Thinking about reducing, reusing and recycling building materials isn't always the first thing on a contractor's mind at a construction site. However, Dave Shoemaker, Boldt construction manager, said on-site efforts were encouraged on a daily basis and shared with all of the subcontractors. They understood how their efforts really were making a difference. At the end of construction, the company diverted 85 percent of waste (237 tons) from area landfills at a disposal cost savings of $3,555.

Using recycled materials
Recycled or reused materials were incorporated in the building and most were obtained locally, including furniture refurbished by Recycled Office Environments of Stevens Point, UltraTouch natural cotton insulation made of recycled old blue jeans, Woodstalk!" cabinetry and floorboards made of post-consumer wheat straw fiber, rotary-cut birch veneer doors, concrete mixed with incinerator ash, a waterless urinal, and carpet squares made with 54 percent recycled content from Interface, Inc. The striking wooden canopy over the entire upper floor is comprised of twenty-one 60-foot laminated wood trusses and roof decking.

Indoor air and energy
High efficiency air filtration and a carbon monoxide monitoring system help maintain indoor air quality. Integrated building management and electrical submetering continuously monitor energy consumption. In a cooperative venture with our local utility provider, Wisconsin Public Service, a monitor in the lobby displays energy savings and information about building design for walk-in customers. Recent calculations show the building is easily achieving goals of meeting an Energy Star rating of 85 or better.

The DNR building is also the largest commercial customer in northeast Wisconsin purchasing renewable energy through the electric utility's NatureWiseŽ program. As part of the LEED certification, DNR is purchasing about half its total electrical needs from NatureWiseŽ for two years. Energy efficiency here is so high Governor Doyle chose the building as the site to sign Executive Order #132, which sets goals for holding energy use in state-owned facilities to a minimum. And in January 2005, Berners-Schober Associates received the first Governor's Award for Sustainable Design and Construction, recognizing its exemplary work on this state office building.

Another sparkling new green gem

Similar strides on a more modest scale produced another green gem of a building at the DNR's George W. Mead Wildlife Area, located about 20 miles northwest of Stevens Point. The new 6,208-square-foot Stanton W. Mead Education and Visitors Center provides meeting rooms for school and community groups as well as office space for the four DNR wildlife staff who oversee "The Mead" – a 28,500-acre public hunting area that's an equally popular destination for bicycling, bird watching, hiking and nature study.

The woodburner radiates warmth through the surrounding bench and an in-floor heating system. © Courtesy of Thomas Brown, Architect, Stevens Point
The woodburner radiates warmth through the surrounding bench and an in-floor heating system.

© Courtesy of Thomas Brown, Architect, Stevens Point

The new center uses no oil or natural gas to meet heating needs. Instead, a mixture of passive solar design, radiant heat, solar-heated hot water and geothermal heat pumps warm the interior. Winter heat also gets a big boost from a highly efficient masonry woodburner/fireplace that radiates heat directly and sends a gentle warming flow to a wide bench and in-floor heating system feeding off heat from the chimney flue. Separate zones for the lobby, staff offices and educational areas allow the heating and cooling systems to operate independently as needed, explained Thomas Brown, the Stevens Point architect who designed the building and incorporated the energy-efficient systems.

Electricity comes from a wind turbine and a grid of photovoltaic cells. Even the toilets and sinks contain mini-generators to create electricity that is stored in batteries to help power the fixtures. These systems are wired into the power grid with other energy sources; the excess power is "sold" to the electric utility, or used as a source of additional power to maintain the building.

Eight geothermal heat/cooling pumps are attached to 32 pipes, each 600 feet long. The pipes are buried just east of the building about eight feet down in an area about the size of a football field. At eight feet under the surface, the ground and water in the pipes remain at about 50°F year-round. In winter, heat is extracted from this warmer water. Four pumps help feed the hot water system and the other four circulate through the radiant flooring, providing warmth. In summer, the system is reversed; warm water dissipates heat through the underground grid of pipes, which acts as a heat sink. Heat pumps return three to four times as much energy as they take to run the system.

"We take heat out of the ground and dump it into the building during winter and take heat from the building and dump it into the ground in summer," Brown said.

Like the DNR's Northeast Regional building, the Mead Educational Center relies on cool daylighting to brighten up the interior. Building design allows daylight to reach 90 percent of the interior space. Even the soffits were painted off-white to reflect light from winter snow into the building. Most days the building needs little additional interior lighting; wide overhangs shield the rooms from harsher summer light and heat.

The interior features tasteful recycled materials like desktops and counter surfaces milled from compressed sunflower hulls fused in resins, carpeting with natural fibers, and paints free of volatile organic compounds. Interior roof beams are composed of small-diameter yellow pine boards laminated together. Brown estimates 95 percent of the construction waste was recycled for other uses.

Equally impressive, the Friends of the Mead, a support group, raised $1.5 million in cash and in-kind donations of materials from more than 200 donors, anchored by a donation of more than $1 million from Marv and Ruth Schuette of Wausau Homes.

Ruth (Rudie) Schuette told the Wausau City Pages she was inspired to help out after a visit to Mead, where a school group was sitting on carpet squares in an unheated machine shed working on a project. "We decided we'd do the building personally, but also on behalf of our employees and customers," she said. "Each generation must care for the creation it is given. This is our turn."

In DNR's strategic plan, we recognize the air, land, and water are interconnected in sustaining all life, in protecting public health, and in achieving healthy, diverse ecosystems and the sustainable economies that depend on these ecosystems. We provide leadership, technical assistance and outreach so people can make informed environmental decisions and get actively involved in setting local and statewide priorities. We meet, and where possible exceed, the public vision for an environment that sustains the economy, ecology, aesthetics, recreation, agriculture and other uses. We promote reduction, reuse and recycling of consumer goods.

So when you put the pieces together, it makes perfect sense. Who else but the DNR to build and promote environmentally friendly building!

Annette Weissbach is a hydrogeologist for DNR's Northeast Region in Green Bay. Magazine editors distilled published information about the Mead Education and Visitors Center.

More on green building