BRAC side effect: Greener buildings

Because of mandates requiring new DoD buildings to meet minimum requirements for environmental design, tens of thousands of Defense employees are making moves from older, energy inefficient buildings into greener ones.

By Jared Serbu
DoD Reporter
Federal News Radio

There’s a green side-effect to the 2005 DoD Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) round that’s wrapping up this year. Defense employees are moving from older, less energy-efficient buildings into new facilities that have to meet minimum standards for green construction.

Although BRAC involves the closure of bases, the realignment component has required the erecting of new buildings across the country, and military services managing the construction of those facilities have mandated that new construction meets the LEED Silver benchmark. LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) is a project of the U.S. Green Building Council that scores new construction and renovations on numerous factors, including water and energy use, access to public transit and the selection of the construction site itself.

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One example of the greener buildings springing up around the country under BRAC is northern Virginia’s Fort Belvoir Community Hospital, which expects to be ready for patients this August with a LEED Silver rating.

“One of the first things people notice about the new hospital is these odd-looking structures at the top of the buildings, they’re curved, sort of concave structures,” said Don Carr, a spokesman at Fort Belvoir. “Those catch rainwater. That rainwater will be used by the hospital for all its non-potable purposes, like landscaping, cooling systems and so-forth.”

Since Fort Belvoir is taking in more new personnel than any other U.S. base under this year’s BRAC moves, it’s had to do a lot of construction across its four non-contiguous locations in Virginia. Another huge LEED project is at the base’s Belvoir North site at a new facility constructed for the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency.

“It will be the third largest building in the government inventory, and it’s the largest LEED Silver building in the country,” said Travis Edwards, another base spokesman. “It’s 2.3 million square feet, and you can fit the Statue of Liberty in the atrium. It’s a huge building, and it uses very little energy.”

(To view photos of the NGA East complex, check out our photo gallery above or visit the Belvoir Army Engineers Flickr pages.)

The Army only requires that new buildings be eligible for LEED certification, not necessarily that the agency or component in charge of construction actually applies for and gets that certification from the Green Building Council. Many Army components, however, apply with their own funds.

Belvoir also is home to the Defense Department’s first certified LEED Platinum building, the Green Building Council’s highest award. The clubhouse-style community center in one of the base’s residential villages uses geothermal energy and is constructed with a large percentage of recycled and renewable materials, like soy-based insulation and simulated marble countertops made of recycled aluminum.

When Washington’s historic Walter Reed Army Medical Center closes under BRAC later this year, many of its functions will go to Fort Belvoir’s new hospital. The rest will go to a new, expanded facility on the grounds of the current National Naval Medical Center in nearby Bethesda, Md.

Bethesda officials have had to construct plenty of facilities of their own, and just last week, leaders there held a ceremony to announce that their new outpatient and inpatient facilities had been certified LEED Gold.

“This is the largest outpatient building in the military health system,” said Vice Adm. John Mateczun, the commander of DoD’s Joint Task Force Capital Medicine. “When you add it and the parking garage, and the building that’s on the other side, that’s a million square feet of construction. So when we can achieve energy efficiencies there, it’s a great thing.”

Officials at Bethesda said LEED Gold certification at a hospital is especially significant, since they operate around the clock and use a great deal of energy-hungry medical equipment.

Another big DoD electricity user is the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA), which is in the process of moving into a new complex the size of 24 football fields on Fort Meade in Maryland. Energy is so important there that DISA built its own redundant power supply, independent from Fort Meade’s grid, running to two separate power substations off-base.

David Bullock, DISA’s BRAC executive, said the construction contract for the entire complex mandated LEED Silver, but they’re hoping for a LEED Gold certification by the time the points are tallied.

“We view that as part of trying to make the building appealing to our workforce,” he said. “We knew our employees were interested in environmentally friendly design. One of the early and repeated questions we got was whether we were going to have a grass roof. It turns out that wasn’t really a good environmental decision for us, but it did illustrate that our employees were very interested in environmental design.”

To press toward a LEED certification, Bullock said DISA and its contractor had to take a lot factors into account, starting with the site selection itself.

“We made sure that there are no structures within 100 feet of any wetlands,” he said. “We had to go through a very extensive permitting process with the state of Maryland to ensure that we were complying with all of the requirements that are put in place by the state. We put in indigenous plants for the most part to reduce our water usage and keep the site green, and that has worked out very well.”

The LEED score chart also emphasizes steps that encourage environmentally-friendly ways to get to work, including simple things like building designated parking spaces for low-emission vehicles and vanpool vehicles. Bullock said DISA had taken those measures and also launched a subscription bus service for employees who live near to each other but relatively far from Fort Meade.

Bullock said DISA also took measures to conserve energy, such as installing systems that turn the lights off in rooms that are not in use.

Looking beyond BRAC, DoD wants to find new ways to save energy in the 300,000 buildings it owns around the world. The department has asked for $30 million in next year’s budget to pay for an energy research test bed for DoD installations. Leaders think they can reduce energy use in existing buildings by 50 percent and in new construction by 70 percent.

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