March 1, 2001 - From the March, 2001 issue

Governor's Office Ponders Mandate: Smart, Sustainable State Buildings

Before mechanization, elevators and even air conditioning, we constructed grand buildings simply by concentrating on site location, building massing and window bay height. Now mired in an electricity crisis, can we reunite the "art" of construction with our current technological innovation so that our buildings are smarter, more efficient and provide a better work environment. Secretary of State & Consumer Services Agency Aileen Adams joins her colleagues Kevin Kaestner from the Department of Government Services and Arnold Sowell, Jr. from her Agency to detail their plans for implementing an institutionalized framework for having all new state facilities be smarter and more energy efficient.

Aileen Adams

Sec. Adams, could you give our readers a synopsis of the policy dialogue taking place within the State Consumer Services Agency regarding the need for and the planning of sustainable new state facilities?

Aileen Adams
State Consumer Services Agency

When I became Secretary, the state was in the midst of planning the largest state government building project in the history of California-the $400 million, 1.5 million square foot Capitol East End project.

To make sure that project was as energy efficient and sustainable as possible, I convened a task force comprised of all relevant governmental entities with expertise in sustainability-the Department of General Services, the Energy Commission, the Air Resources Board, the Integrated Waste Management Board, Cal EPA and the Department of Health Services.

This interdisciplinary task force prepared the East End project's RFP and ensured that sustainability was a major factor in the competitive bidding process. The result is a project which is 30-percent more energy efficient than required by California law and is projected to save taxpayers an estimated $400,000 per year in energy costs. This collaboration marks the first time that these agencies had been brought together to work on a major building project and represents the foundation for institutionalizing sustainability in state buildings.

Subsequently, the Governor issued an Executive Order establishing a sustainable building goal for all state buildings and requested that the State Consumer Services Agency oversee a similar task force charged with making recommendations regarding its implementation in a cost effective manner. With the State of California owning over 189 million square feet of office space and investing about $2.5 billion annually in the construction or renovation of state facilities, this represents a great opportunity to positively influence new projects.

This task force has been meeting for the past six months to identify every major state project and incorporate sustainability techniques into the construction process. It is also recommending that the financing of state buildings include a life cycle costing approach, rather than the current industry approach of only looking at upfront costs.

We must begin to look at what a building costs over its lifetime and include such items as energy savings and increased employee production to that equation. This is especially true given the fact that upfront costs are a mere 2-percent of the total cost of a building, while operation and maintenance costs equal roughly 6-percent and personnel costs are about 92-percent. But, in order to implement an approach which focuses upon life cycle costing, we have to change the current culture. And that's what we're in the process of trying to do.

What's compelling the State to take on the challenge of implementing sustainable development?

Aileen Adams

First, it saves taxpayers money.

Second, it creates buildings that are healthier for employees, making them more productive.

Third, the buildings are vastly more energy efficient, which is of particular importance during our energy crisis.

And fourth, sustainable development greatly benefits the environment because it ensures use of recycled materials, which diverts tremendous amounts of materials from landfills.

And what are the political challenges at the state level when you try to make a cultural change within the public institutions responsible for financing, designing and building new state facilities?

Aileen Adams

Cultural change really begins with education and altering the historic view of cost. It's about making every agency involved in the building process-including the Legislature and the Department of Finance-understand that sustainability provides a more productive environment for employees and is cost effective over a period of years- that ultimately saves taxpayer dollars.

Mr. Kaestner, let's turn our attention to the new Caltrans headquarters project in Downtown L.A. Is it a good example of what we can now expect in the way of a sustainable new state building? And what classifies a new building as "sustainable?"

Kevin Kaestner
Department of Government Services

We're currently investigating a number of items that we classify into Tier 1 and Tier 2 sustainability components.

Tier 1 is similar to what is normally included in any Title 24 building. Title 24 is the minimum code or criteria with which all State of California buildings must comply.

Tier 2 goes above and beyond that with technology like thermal storage, where water is cooled at off-peak hours and stored so that it can be used during the peak. This process eliminates a majority of the current dependence on energy use during normal daily building operations.

Other components we're looking at are: under floor air distribution, high performance glazing, photovoltaics, and dimming controls in the building as well as along the perimeter and increasing the window bay heights so that light can go deeper into the building.

Often public facilities projects are challenged for not being on-time or on-budget and public sector staff are thus typically risk-averse to experimenting with building forms that are new. Have you found any resistance within state government? If so, how have you overcome whatever hesitation there's been to trying something that hasn't been done before in the public sector?

Aileen Adams

The first hurdle was really bringing together different agencies and creating a true partnership. The Department of General Services (DGS), which oversees building projects and is within our agency, had not traditionally operated in a collaborative way.

We overcame a lot of distrust among agencies during a site visit to San Diego where we toured two identically constructed buildings where one had been retrofitted with energy efficiency and sustainability measures and the other had not. The advantages of the retrofitted building in terms of cost savings, energy efficiency and productive work environment were apparent to everyone. And after that tour, it became very clear that sustainability was not difficult and made sense on many different levels.


The DGS staff saw first hand how they could benefit from the expertise of the environmental and health departments in government. A true partnership began to form that day and has been strengthened ever since. Now we have a team approach in the way we design and construct buildings. I give DGS a lot of credit because that was a big change for them.

Kevin, there will be readers of this interview wondering what caused Caltrans to conclude that sustainability was a good idea. Some will want to know how it was possible to sell the idea given a state capital budgetary process which puts little value on design or the cost of maintenance. Could you give them some insight into how you're going to finance this sustainable building project?

Kevin Kaestner

As it's currently scoped, the Downtown Los Angeles Caltrans headquarter project will have a number of financial hurdles to overcome. We can't incorporate all the individual sustainability items within our current budget. But we're in the midst of requesting additional funding and we're hopeful that the Legislature will approve that in the near future.

But where does one find architects or general contractors that feel comfortable building something other than what they've built for the last decade. Tell us what the thought process was when you came to grips with trying to cost the Caltrans Project?

Aileen Adams

I was involved in the East End Project during its infancy. That project was a starting point for governmental agencies to work together to achieve sustainable goals. The Caltrans project offers us an opportunity to move beyond sustainability and to combine sustainable goals with excellence in architecture and art.

The federal government has focused on excellence in architecture and we are implementing many new procedures at DGS to ensure that state buildings reflect architectural excellence. But, we view that as merely one of the important components in the overall design of a building. Both sustainability and public art should be integrated into buildings at an early stage as well. It's not enough to have a building that's beautiful from an architectural standpoint. We should have buildings that are beautiful because the public art is spectacular, the environment is healthier and because they are energy efficient and cost effective.

Mr. Sowell, are the state's East End Project and Caltrans building in Downtown L.A. going to be the models for other new state buildings, including new school facilities?

Arnold Sowell, Jr.
State Consumer Services Agency

The great thing on the school construction front is that there is a significant effort underway between state agencies, utilities, non-profit organizations and others called The Collaborative for High Performance Schools (CHPS). They are using these sustainable building practices, technologies, and implementation procedures as a foundation for the development of high performance schools. CHPS has conducted workshops throughout the state and developed a school design guide to better address the state's school construction needs and improve the learning environment for the state's growing student population.

Sec. Adams, a practical question. The public sector typically takes on a project like this, phases it out and budgets for it in a manner often inconsistent with the cost of a building system over its lifecycle. This is arguably not the best way for a project to arise, it's not the way it should be budgeted, and it's not the way it should be managed. How then, do you overcome past practice? How do you introduce the notion that a new building is a holistic project that will have a lifecycle of 20, 30, 40 years?

Aileen Adams

We're beginning that process right now, and the key is training for every state agency involved in the building process. We should also look to the private sector, which has recognized that sustainable building makes sense and learn from their experiences. There are many private sector companies that are finding that this type of construction is saving money and working well for their employees. We need to integrate these experiences into the state's capital outlay process.

It's harder than one might think to overcome these age-old paradigms of budgeting and development. But in the end, regardless of the difficulty, sustainability simply makes sense and we've taken a giant step toward its implementation through the Governor's Executive Order and the work of the task force. Their recommendations will be released in a few weeks.

All of us must remember that when we build, we build forever. As Winston Churchill once said, "We shape our buildings and then they shape us."

Mr. Sowell, what are your thoughts re: the challenges, obstacles and hesitations standing in the way of this new paradigm being embraced by public facilities personnel at the state, regional and local levels? From your experience what are the argumentative and logistical obstacles that are keeping sustainability from truly being embraced?

Arnold Sowell, Jr.

As Secretary Adams mentioned, right now the thinking around most fiscal operations is that you look at building construction from a "first cost" standpoint and separate out operations and maintenance costs over the lifecycle of the building. And despite the widespread understanding that resource efficient buildings will see savings over their lifetime, the fiscal types only notice or recognize the increased up-front allocation.

The other critical component is intrinsic to the actual project development process-you need to look at the building as a system, not merely an amalgam of separate subcomponents. Building systems are inextricably intertwined. An integrated design approach is what the current state capitol outlay program needs to incorporate into its project development process. Such a process allows architects, engineers, and others to spend time developing sustainable building applications. For instance, improved lighting means less heat generation and therefore, the buildings mechanical and electrical systems can possibly be scaled down. You need the right folks in the room to make these types of decisions.

Lastly, Mr. Sowell, do you see sustainable building practices being integrated into the language of the next state school bond, park bond, or library bond?

Arnold Sowell, Jr.

I would hope so and here's one of the reasons why. Not too long ago a study was commissioned by Pacific Gas & Electric and conducted by the Herschong Mahone Group revolving around "daylighting." Daylighting is a technique of incorporating as much natural light as possible into the building design and is an integral feature of any sustainable building project.

This study found that students in classrooms with additional windows increased performance on math tests by 20-percent and by 26-percent on reading tests, as compared to those with less daylighting. So these sustainability guidelines are not merely motivated by fiscal sensibility but to directly enhance the classroom performance and learning atmosphere for students.

This type of empirical evidence should assist decision makers in concluding that sustainable building practices should be incorporated into bond measures. And my hope would be that the next school of library bond will follow the lead of the recent park bond, which included language on the use of recycled content materials in the various park projects.


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