GSA unveils plans for the first net-zero-energy historic building

Reconstruction, restoration of Colorado structure is part of the agency's effort to shrink environmental footprint.

The General Services Administration unveiled plans this month to turn a nearly 100-year-old building into the country's first net-zero-energy-usage historic building.

The $15 million reconstruction and restoration of the Wayne Aspinall Federal Building and Courthouse, built in 1918 in Grand Junction, Colo., about 250 miles west of Denver, is designed so the building will produce as much energy as it consumes, making it the first on the National Register of Historic Places to do so.

GSA also intends to have the building certified LEED Platinum, the highest level. The LEED program of the U.S. Green Building Council encourages and accelerates global adoption of environmentally sustainable building and development practices.

In May 2010, GSA Administrator Martha Johnson said the agency "has to embrace a zero environmental footprint goal. We should set our sights on eliminating the impact of the federal government on our natural environment."

Under the plans unveiled on Feb. 4, GSA will install a geothermal heating and cooling system that uses the ground's warmth or cold to control building temperature and solar panels, which are expected to generate power for the entire building. Any excess power will be exported to Grand Junction's electrical grid.

Other features include new windows and LED lighting that will adjust brightness levels based on how much daylight penetrates the building, which, besides a courthouse, is home to units of the Labor Department, Social Security Administration, Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Marshals Service and other federal agencies.

This project is a model of what you can do, said Michael Owens, GSA's Rocky Mountain region recovery executive. "Is it possible to take a historic courthouse and make it net-zero," he said. "We're learning the whole possibilities -- dare to dream."

Despite his excitement over the project, Owens expressed some nervousness about fully accomplishing the goals of the project, which is expected to be finished in January 2013.

Yet Owens said he is confident GSA can deliver on its goals using technology, which figured heavily in the design. "As technology advances, your [solar] panels get more and more efficient all the time . . .. Everybody is turning out a better panel," he added.

GSA, which sees this project as one of many to come, said it has the resources to show what is possible in both the public and private sector. "GSA is uniquely positioned to drive innovation in the real estate market," said

Sally Mayberry, GSA public affairs director for the Rocky Mountain region. "[And we're] large enough that we can afford to take calculated risks."

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