April 17, 2009
Brownfield reclamation. Achievable energy efficiency. Apartment firms benefit from low insurance costs. And more.

Brownfield Reclamation is Practical and Cost Effective

In today’s tight economy, reclaiming brownfields for new development makes good environmental and fiscal sense. Current engineering technology can provide cost-effective remediation of such properties that turns them into pristine development parcels, many of which already boast sleek, environmentally sound commercial and residential buildings.

Here, Christopher F. Zwingle, principal at SESI Consulting Engineers, Pine Brook, NJ, discusses brownfield reclamation, and why this topic should matter to building owners and facility managers.

Buildings: What’s a brownfield, and where are brownfields located?

Zwingle: Brownfield sites are typically tracts of under-utilized properties that are contaminated and have a history of use (e.g. former industrial or commercial sites, landfills, miscellaneous dump sites, sites with aboveground and underground storage tanks). Most brownfield sites are in industrial and/or urban settings, and are nuisance sites – eyesores that adversely impact the environment.

Brownfields exist in almost all states. Because of their locations, many brownfields are valuable property once remediated.

Buildings: Why is it a good idea to reclaim brownfield sites?

Zwingle: Developers seek out brownfields because they’re often in highly desirable areas with great potential, often offering access to highways, railroads, waterways, and urban centers. These properties can usually be purchased at a discount; however, the additional cost of permitting and site remediation must be carefully factored into the purchase price. These additional costs can be high, but savvy developers can usually carry out these projects to their advantage. In addition, financial incentives are available to assist with remediation efforts.

Benefits to brownfield site redevelopment, in addition to cleaning up the environment, include preserving green space by recycling existing sites, and capitalizing on existing infrastructure to promote sustainable development. Also, for many projects, public funding is available to facilitate remediation and redevelopment.

Buildings: What practices can be used to remediate these properties?

Zwingle: Different types of uses require different levels of remediation, and most site-remediation programs involve a combination of engineering and institutional controls. Remediation of contaminated soil could include removal/disposal/replacement, or leaving the contaminated soil in place and installing a superficial capping system to prevent human and ecological exposure. More expensive remedial solutions could include vacuum extraction of contaminants, thermal remediation, soil washing, chemical oxidation, bio­remediation, etc.

Remediation of groundwater can be very difficult. In most cases, the complete restoration of a groundwater system is not possible.

Buildings: What should our readers know about brownfield reclamation?

Zwingle: Prior to purchasing a brownfield property, an appropriate due-diligence program must be implemented. The historical use of the site and the nature of the contamination should be thoroughly investigated and defined. The cost of the remediation and redevelopment, along with the required permits and approvals, should be carefully evaluated. It’s also advisable that the regulatory agency be involved with the analyses to limit the liability for unknown conditions to occur in the future.

The proposed purchaser and redeveloper of a brownfield site should carefully select the engineering firm that will complete the work. Experience with similar sites should be an important factor in this selection.

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EVO Tower Opens in LA


The EVO Condominium Tower officially opened at the end of 2008. The 24-story, LEED Silver-targeted tower was designed by Portland, OR-based TVA Architects Inc. and GBD Architects Inc., also of Portland, OR. Located in the heart of Los Angeles’ Live Entertainment District, the eco-friendly high-rise offers high-density living; it also incorporates sustainable materials, environmentally responsible construction, and a thoughtful approach to neighborhood growth and planning.

EVO is the third phase of a major revitalization effort to bring green residential living, along with mixed-use and retail, to downtown Los Angeles. Along with sister towers Elleven and Luma, EVO is the first new, ground-up development in LA in 20 years. With 500,000 square feet above grade, EVO houses 311 condominium units and five ground-level, 2-story townhomes. A 140,000-square-foot, 3-level underground parking garage accommodates 425 vehicles.

Unique architectural features include an exterior curtainwall system with high-efficiency glazing, recycled aluminum window mullions, and metal panels. The building skin is also tuned to its environment, working with mechanical systems to achieve maximum energy efficiency by minimizing solar heat gain and increasing thermal value.

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Study Indicates Levels of Achievable Energy Efficiency

NAIOP, the Commercial Real Estate Development Association, located in Herndon, VA, recently released a report detailing the levels of energy efficiency that standard office buildings can reach while remaining economically feasible.

The study was conducted to determine if commercial development could achieve reduction targets of 30- to 50-percent above the ASHRAE 90.1-2004 standard. Using a recently completed, 4-story, 95,000-square-foot, Class-A office building as the prototype, the research modeled the prototype in three climate zones.

The findings show that, although significant energy efficiencies can be achieved, reaching a 30-percent reduction above the ASHRAE standard isn’t feasible using common design approaches, and would exceed a 10-year payback. The study concluded that achieving a 50-percent reduction is not currently reachable.

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Twin Pine Casino Expansion Completed


The expansion of the Twin Pine Casino near Middletown in Lake County, CA, was recently completed by JE Dunn Construction Co. in Sacramento, CA. The $30 million casino and hotel project was completed ahead of schedule and under budget in 10 months. The 52,220-square-foot casino is made of structural steel and cedar-shake siding and log timbers.

Expanded areas include spaces for gaming, including slot machines and table games; a restaurant; a kitchen; a bar; shops; a wine-tasting room; and administrative areas. The rustic, high-end interiors and finishes include brick walls, brick barrel vaulted ceilings, hand-blown chandeliers with grape-bunch clusters, large wood timbers, and a water wheel.

The 3-story, wood-and-cedar-shake hotel houses 60 rooms, including several large suites. The 43,000-square-foot hotel boasts luxury finishes, like hand-crafted cherry millwork and granite counters for all tabletops and cabinets.

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Lower Insurance Costs Helped Apartment Firms in 2008

Apartment firms benefited from lower insurance costs across the board in 2008, according to the Washington, D.C.-based National Multi Housing Council (NMHC).

In its 2008 Apartment Cost of Risk Survey (ACORS), the NMHC found that apartment firms experienced a 17-percent price decrease for insurance in 2008. This compares favorably with the 10-percent to 25-percent reductions recorded in the broader commercial-property sector. Costs for property insurance, which account for 67 percent of the average apartment firm’s insurance budget, fell 13 percent from 2007 to 2008.

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University of New Hampshire Recycles 98 Percent of Construction Materials

During the demolition and reconstruction of the University of New Hampshire’s DeMeritt Hall, the school achieved a 98-percent recycling rate. With the help of the Concord, NH-based Institution Recycling Network (IRN) and Harvey Construction of Bedford, NH, the university made DeMeritt Hall its first test of aggressive jobsite recycling.

Phase One of the project included salvaging select building components for reuse in the new building. Items that couldn’t be placed in the new hall were managed through IRN’s surplus program, which places items for reuse through U.S. and international disaster-relief organizations.

Demolition procedures optimized recycling opportunities and didn’t interfere with construction efficiency or schedules.

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ASU Nursing Building Becomes Global Institute of Sustainability


Arizona State University’s (ASU) Global Institute of Sustainability is housed in its former Nursing Building, which has been transformed from a dreary facility (built in 1965) to the sustainably designed home of the School of Sustainability at ASU.

Although ASU’s original budget of $3 million allowed primarily for asbestos abatement; upgrading fire- and life-safety, HVAC, and lighting systems; and making the elevators, stairways, and restrooms ADA compliant, university officials envisioned more.

When an additional $3 million became available from its capital budget, ASU hired Ann Arbor, MI-based Lord, Aeck & Sargent and Phoenix-based Gould Evans Associates to create a building that would celebrate responsible design.

The building was transformed into a bright, open, eco-friendly facility targeted for LEED Silver. The building should save 18.7 percent on energy use and 50.3 percent on water use.

The building’s most visible educational component is a renewable-energy source: six wind turbines mounted on the roof’s eastern edge and powered by thermal updrafts.

Other energy-conservation strategies include an energy-efficient, sensor-controlled lighting system; increased use of natural light; and the installation of sunscreens.

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