BUILDINGS Content Director Chris Olson talks with Kevin Miller, principal of GSBS Architects, about energy priorities at Salt Lake City’s 175,000-square-foot Public Safety Building. The new facility is scheduled to open in August.
Salt Lake City’s mayor set very high expectations for energy in this building. What was the goal and how did you go about meeting it from the outset?
At first the stated goal was too general – a building that is as efficient as possible. We knew that we needed a more specific commitment from the city before we could draw a single line. Ultimately the city committed to a building with net-zero carbon emissions.
Very often the approach to a building is to figure out what the design is going to be and then hang some sustainability elements from it. We knew that we could not meet the net-zero goal for this building with that approach. Everything from the beginning would need to be done with that goal in mind.
How did you promote and maintain the energy focus among the team members?
One thing we use is what we call an “energy use thermometer.” We decided that we would talk about energy at every weekly team meeting. We have continued this practice from concept design through construction documents. Even now, in the construction phase, we still bring up energy in our weekly meetings and evaluate any impacts taking place since the previous meeting.
How are you using an energy model for this building?
We have an energy engineer on staff and he built an energy model for the building. The model is continuously modified and adjusted to reflect design and construction impacts. Every design decision was evaluated with the model. For example, when we were looking at daylighting configurations, the model told us things like the percentage impact of various designs. The engineer gives an update on the model at each weekly meeting.
What challenges to energy efficiency did this building’s program present?
Among the facility’s occupants are the fire and police departments, and of course they have critical 24/7 operations and need a high level of security. So any energy-efficiency measures that might compromise critical operations could not be considered. Nevertheless, we felt that we had to win over the fire and police chiefs so that they recognized that they could contribute to the energy goal without sacrificing their requirements.
What did you do to get the buy-in of occupants on the energy goals?
We conducted workshops with the occupants to discuss energy matters. The workshops are put on video and circulate through YouTube so that everyone can see what is going on. The police department came up with the idea of shooting its own humorous video in which a SWAT team “arrests” an occupant who has a space heater.
What are some of the energy-efficient systems in the building?
The entry canopy has 3,000 square feet of PV panels and the roof has 22,000 square feet. There are also off-site PV panels. A vegetated roof helps to keep the building cool. The building has radiant floors and a chilled beam system.
What is key to achieving energy efficiency?
I think a key item is not to look at energy in isolation. Energy is a fourth leg of the stool along with budget, quality, and program. If you make a change with any one of the four, you must look at its effect on the others.