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green@work : Magazine : Back Issues : Nov/Dec 2002 : Governing Green

Governing Green
Priorities and politics in the public sector

Turning an Eyesore into an Asset
The Windy City takes control with its new Center for Green Technology.



The Chicago Center for Green Technology, a new city facility on the west side, is aiming to become a national model of energy efficiency and environmentally-friendly “green” design. In fact, the city plans to apply for a platinum LEED™ rating from the U.S. Green Building Council, the highest level of this nationally-recognized green building certification program. The Chicago Center for Green Technology, at 445 N. Sacramento, would be only the third building in the country to earn this rating, and the first that is a renovation.
“When I talk about making Chicago a ‘green’ city, this is what I mean,” said Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley. “What was once an environmental liability—an eyesore for the community—is now a community asset and a national example.”

The Chicago Department of Environment took control of the property in 1997, after the previous owner violated the city’s environmental laws and filed bankruptcy. A brownfield site with more than 600,000 cubic yards of construction and demolition debris, the city cleaned up the site and recycled the clean stone and concrete into public infrastructure projects throughout the city.
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In designing and renovating the building, Chicago wanted to minimize the negative environmental effects usually associated with constructing buildings, improve the environment where possible and create a healthy place for people to work and visit. Signs throughout the building and grounds show visitors what the city has accomplished.

- For instance, its ground-source heat pump—the first in Chicago—uses the constant temperature of the earth to heat or cool the building. Thus, it is about 40 percent more energy efficient than a conventional building of its size.

- With solar panels on the roof and photovoltaic awnings shading south-facing windows, the center gets 20 percent of its energy from the sun. Special sensors dim or brighten lights automatically depending on how much sunlight is coming in through the windows. Skylights and large windows further reduce the need for electricity.

- The site’s stormwater system actually improves the surrounding environment. Rainwater that falls on the grounds is directed toward bioswales that slow down the water and filter impurities. Rainwater from the roof is directed into four cisterns with a total capacity of 12,000 gallons. A rooftop garden captures additional rainwater. A site this size, developed in a typical manner, would drain about 175,000 gallons of water during a two-inch rainstorm. This site drains only about 85,000 gallons.

- More than half of the building materials used in the renovation were manufactured within 300 miles of Chicago. Locally-produced materials cut down on the amount of air pollution created in shipping materials and benefit the regional economy. Many of the materials, 37 percent, are reused or recycled.

The site was designed by the American Institute of Architects Chicago Chapter Committee on the Environment, and the construction was managed by the Public Building Commission of Chicago.

In addition to being a model of green design, the Chicago Center for Green Technology is home to “green” tenants. The city worked with the U.S. Department of Energy to locate Spire Solar Chicago, a manufacturer of solar panels. The company was attracted to the project in part because of an $8 million purchase commitment by the city and ComEd. Those solar panels provide power to the Chicago Center for Green Technology, and represent almost 500 kilowatts now installed on schools and museums in Chicago.

The second tenant, Greencorps Chicago, is a community landscaping and job skills program run by the Chicago Department of Environment, with WRD Environmental as contracting partner. Approximately 25 individuals per year learn landscaping skills and, while apprenticing with the city, work with about 200 community groups each year to design, install and maintain community gardens.
The site includes a cold-climate greenhouse, specially constructed to require no supplemental heat, and a demonstration garden the same size as two standard city lots so that community groups working with Greencorps can help design their own gardens.

The $5.5 million site renovation was paid for through the city’s 1999 settlement with ComEd, which created a fund for projects that demonstrate energy efficiency and improve the reliability of the electric system. Chicago’s Environmental Fund contributed $100,000 for the site design. The $9 million site clearance was paid for by the city, which reduced costs significantly by recycling the concrete and stone into city infrastructure projects.


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