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Seminole okays $5.5 million in bonds for two green buildings

SEMINOLE — Officials here will rely on Florida's famous sunshine not only to power two new buildings, but they're also hoping it will produce enough electricity to more than compensate for the extra money it takes to construct "green" facilities.

One of the buildings will house Seminole's Public Works Department. The other will serve as fire department headquarters and as Seminole's emergency operations center in case of a hurricane or other disaster.

Seminole council members on Tuesday unanimously approved selling $5.5 million in bonds to pay for construction, which is scheduled to begin this month.

The two buildings will be across from each other in the 11000 block of 70th Street N, next to the Pinellas Trail. The Public Works building's 16,208 square feet will be on the site of a former St. Petersburg Times distribution center that the city bought a couple of years ago.

The emergency operations center, or EOC, which is expected to withstand 165-mph hurricane winds (a low Category 5 storm), will be on the site of the former fire administration building. The administration building, built in 1992, was knocked down last September because officials said it cost too much to run — about $85,000 a year. And, at 10,605 square feet, it was too large for the seven employees in the city's fire administration.

Another strike against the old building was its construction: plastic foam with a steel and stucco coating, which was not weatherworthy, officials said. The building was erected before Hurricane Andrew ushered in new construction standards. It went up before Seminole took over fire protection for that area. That portion of the fire district was then run by a board, which spend its money on a building without much thought about the possible impact of a storm on its construction. It is unclear how much the administration building cost taxpayers when it was built.

But the problems city officials said they had with the old building will be solved by the new.

At 4,476 square feet, the EOC will be a little less than half the size of the administration building. That alone would help lower the cost of heating and cooling, but the EOC — and Public Works complex — will be state-of-the-art green buildings.

Both will have xeriscaping to save water, solar water heaters and fuel-efficient parking — meaning hybrid vehicles get special spots close to the building as do vehicles used for car pooling — and bike racks to encourage employees to forgo cars for commuting. They'll also test solar-powered lights in the parking lots to see whether they are adequate to use elsewhere in the city.

But, more importantly, both buildings will have massive amounts of solar panels — 90 on the EOC and 300 on the Public Works building.

These solar cells are not the traditional large panels that take up a lot of room and can be unsightly. Instead, the city is using a newer product that comes in a flexible roll. The material is a peel-and-stick film that is touted to be nearly unbreakable because it has no glass in it. It is made by a company called Uni-Solar. The product can be seen on the company's Web site at www.uni-solar.com.

"The majority of the flat roofs on both buildings will be covered with film," Seminole Public Works director Jeremy Hockenbury said.

The decision to go green meant construction costs were about $300,000 more than they would have been had city officials opted for two traditional buildings.

"Green costs green," Seminole fire Chief Dan Graves said.

But, he said, the city will receive about $100,000 in rebates for choosing to build green and the massive solar array means that, generally, the buildings will generate more electricity than they're expected to use.

"The meter will be going backwards most of the time," Graves said.

The goal, he said, is for Progress Energy to buy the excess electricity. If all goes well, that means the extra cost will be made up in six to seven years in the form of lower energy costs. After that, the excess electricity will help offset the remainder of the building costs for at least the life of the solar cells — about 20 years in total.

Graves said the city is also saving money by building during an economic downturn. The price, he said, is about $1 million less than estimated because of lower labor and other costs. That is, in part, why the city decided to sell bonds so the complex could be built now. The bonds will be repaid with money from the Penny for Pinellas program.

Had Seminole waited until it saved enough from the Penny for Pinellas program to build, prices might have risen, resulting in a greater expenditure over the long run.

Anne Lindberg can be reached at alindberg@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8450.

Seminole okays $5.5 million in bonds for two green buildings 08/01/09 [Last modified: Saturday, August 1, 2009 4:31am]
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