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Largo builds its community center for a green future

The building has received its share of criticism — that Largo, in a time of financial crisis, cannot afford to build a $10 million community center.

And pay for it with a loan.

Especially since the current community center, while cramped and older than many of its senior patrons, hasn't drawn much serious complaint.

But city commissioners, with an eye on the future, pressed ahead.

The vision was for a thoroughly modern building, in tune with the outdoors as a municipal structure can be, an example in energy conservation.

A lofty goal for a cash-strapped city.

Though now, with construction two-thirds complete, walls raised and rooms taking shape, realities are shaping up.

Criticism aside, one thing is clear: Largo residents are in for one nice community center, and perhaps even the highest-rated green building in the county.

"We're very pleased with it," said Assistant City Manager Henry Schubert, who has been involved throughout the building process.

Schubert is quick to point out the aspect of the building that makes it so different: its efficiency.

From the start, city officials knew they wanted a building rated by the U.S. Green Building Council.

The council certifies a building according to its Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design system, which assigns points for certain features, like high-efficiency windows or solar panels.

Levels of certification include certified, silver, gold and platinum. The city's original goal was a silver certification.

Things don't always go as planned.

"At this point, we're very confident we'll be in the gold range," Schubert said. "Sustainability was a big deal."

And there is a possibility that when all the points are tallied, the building could achieve the highest LEED certification, platinum.

It would be only the third such building in Florida, and the only one in Pinellas County.

The details that set the building apart are both subtle and quite apparent.

The land, at 400 Alternate Keen Road, was donated by the Palms of Largo retirement community. It came prestocked with a handful of towering oaks and other trees. Site planners preserved as many as they could.

The parking lot is half grass, preserving green space and warding against a parking lot "heat island," where local temperatures increase due to stretches of asphalt.

Paint colors are intentionally light to reflect sunlight, all bathroom fixtures are low-flow (112,000 gallon per year savings), window glass is nearly four times more insulating than normal panes, and landscaping will be native, drought-tolerant species.

And the flashiest of the building's energy-saving features: a 72-kilowatt photovoltaic solar array and solar water heater system.

The solar panels, mounted flush with the building's roof, are expected to generate 16 percent of the building's electricity needs, and during hours when the solar panel output is more than the building's energy consumption, power is fed back into the grid and sold to Progress Energy.

The solar water heater preheats water before it reaches the main water heater, which results in less energy expended for hot water from faucets.

Overall, the building is expected to be 41 percent more efficient than if it were built to minimum Florida building code.

Annual savings are estimated at $56,344.

Joshua Bomstein, vice president of Creative Contractors in Clearwater, the builder of the community center, said the cost premium for a very efficient building is about 2 percent over building simply to code.

Given that the building is expected to save more than $50,000 per year in energy costs, it could recoup the extra expenses within about four years.

The affordability of building green is relatively new.

"Five years ago, it was a one-way street. We would bring it up. Now, more often than not, it's brought up by the owner," Bomstein said.

In addition to being green, the building is also strong. It is rated to withstand winds of up to 140 mph, and double as a command center and shelter in the event of a hurricane. It has a generator that can power the building for a week.

The center is slated to open to the public late this fall.

Dominick Tao can be reached at dtao@sptimes.com or (727) 580-2951.

How the rating system works

The U.S. Green Building Council's LEED rating is an internationally recognized green building certification system, providing third-party verification that a building or community was designed and built using strategies aimed at improving performance in energy savings, water efficiency, CO2 emissions reduction, improved indoor environmental quality, stewardship of resources and sensitivity to their impacts.

A project can earn up to 100 base points and 10 bonus points.

Points are awarded for: Sustainable sites, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, materials and resources and indoor environmental quality; plus bonus points for innovation in design and regional priority can also be awarded.

Certified40-49 points
Silver50-59 points
Gold60-79 points
Platinum80 points and above

To learn more, visit the U.S. Green Building Council online at www.usgbc.org.

www.usgbc.org/DisplayPage.aspx?CategoryID=19

Largo builds its community center for a green future 08/03/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 3, 2010 7:28pm]
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