A lesson in being green

Emphasis of new Alberta schools is on sustainability and energy efficiency

Long before talk about climate change, reducing emissions, and being environmentally responsible became a hot-button topic, the government of Alberta was already on the leading edge of the green movement in this province.

Four years ago, the government adopted the Building Owners and Managers Association's Building Environmental Standards program, or BOMA BESt. Its purpose is to improve workplace environments by making them safer and healthier while reducing energy consumption, cutting operating costs, and improving waste management.

As of last December, 70 government buildings have been BOMA BESt certified with a plan to certify a total of 80 buildings by this April. These figures represent all of the government's major-owned public buildings. The McDougall Centre in Calgary was the first building to be certified in March 2006 and the Alberta Legislature in Edmonton received certification in December 2007. The Royal Tyrrell Museum, located in Drumheller, is the only museum in Canada to be BOMA BESt certified. It received certification in October 2008.

"The Alberta government continues to lead by example," says Tracy Larsen, an Alberta Infrastructure spokeswoman who adds that government is committed to "reducing the environmental impact of existing government buildings and ensuring new infrastructure is constructed in an environmentally responsible and sustainable manner."

LEED leads the way

Also in 2006, the government adopted the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Silver standard as its minimum design standard for all new government-funded buildings. LEED Silver buildings are more energy-efficient, cost less to operate, and provide a healthier work environment through improved air quality and use of natural light.

The new Calgary Courts Centre was designed to meet LEED Silver standards. As well, the Alberta Schools Alternative Procurement (ASAP) phase I and II projects, which consist of a total of 32 new schools in the Calgary and Edmonton regions opening between 2010 and 2013, are designed to meet minimum LEED Silver standards.

The phase I project was awarded to BBPP Alberta Schools. Construction of all 18 schools is well under way. Nine schools are being built in both Calgary and Edmonton. All 18 are scheduled to open in September.

Based on the five key areas of human and environmental health in LEED; sustainable site development; water efficiency; energy efficiency; materials selection; and indoor environmental quality, the government requires that these schools gain six mandatory LEED energy points.

To make these schools energy efficient, many state-of-the-art systems and building materials will be used. This includes using high efficiency lighting, lighting controls, heat recovery, displacement ventilation, optimized insulation values, and high efficiency boilers.

"It is up to the contractor to decide what he needs to do to meet LEED Silver requirements and the energy points," says John Gibson, director, ASAP, Alberta Infrastructure.

Although LEED Silver buildings cost about five per cent more to build than buildings built to the National Energy Code for Buildings, LEED Silver buildings are up to 45 per cent more energy efficient than those built to the National Energy Code for Buildings. Gibson says a LEED Silver school with six energy points should be between 40 and 45 per cent more energy cost efficient than a school built to the national standard.

Payback time

"A study conducted to look at the cost savings from buildings built to LEED Silver standards indicates a seven year payback," he says. "In other words, the premium paid to achieve the LEED points is recovered in seven years and the savings accrue to the school boards."

It is anticipated these schools will be some of the most energy efficient schools in Alberta. On conventionally procured projects, some school boards have built their schools to LEED Gold standards. Gibson says LEED Gold schools can be 53 per cent more efficient than schools built to National Energy Code for Buildings standards.

Gibson says it is difficult to assess what the reduction in environmental footprint will be per ASAP school. However, he says how much waste is diverted from landfills, recycled materials used, local content, low volatile organic materials and paints, and energy and water efficiencies, all affect the footprint in a positive manner.

"Whatever the reduction in environmental footprint is," he says, "it will be similar to that reduced in emissions, between 40 and 45 per cent."

The phase II project will see 14 schools built in the Edmonton and Calgary areas-10 K-9 and middle schools and 4 high schools. The K-9 and middle schools will be in the Request for Proposal stage until March. The government expects to award the contract by the end of April. The four high schools are being procured in a design-build contract that was awarded to Clark Builders last October. All 14 of these schools will also be built to minimum LEED Silver standards.

Not only has the government of Alberta adopted a minimum of LEED Silver standard for all of its newly constructed buildings and the BOMA BESt certification program for its existing buildings, it continues to implement other programs that further its green commitment.

To reduce greenhouse gas emissions, 100 per cent of the electricity used by Alberta government buildings, where there is grid access, comes from "EcoLogo certified" green power sources (wind and biomass). This reduces greenhouse gas emissions by 200,000 tonnes annually.

The government also uses alternative energy sources such as solar energy to supplement electricity at the Pincher Creek Provincial Building and thermo-solar systems to heat water within the Pincher Creek Provincial Building and the Lethbridge Correctional Centre.

Other green initiatives include a province-wide battery-recycling program, available for government facilities, that removes and properly re-uses or processes all hazardous components within batteries. The province also has a lamp-recycling program that has diverted over 160,000 mercury-containing items from landfills.

Larsen says the government of Alberta remains committed to reducing its environmental footprint.

Says Larsen: "Alberta's infrastructure priorities include continuing to incorporate and maintain sustainable building practices with an aim to enhance energy efficiency, reduce use of hazardous materials, build healthy and safe environments, promote the wise use of natural resources, and support the local economy."

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