What Works at Sarasota County

Sept. 29, 2005
Sarasota County Pursues High-Performance Buildings Initiatives

Nearly 10 years ago, officials in Sarasota County, FL, took a look at their buildings and didn’t like what they saw.

“We were dissatisfied with the buildings we were building,” recalls Gary Patton, energy coordinator for the county’s public works and facilities services department. “We were looking for high-performance buildings.”

In a state where year-round air-conditioning is pretty much mandatory for occupant comfort, energy-efficient, high-performance facilities would not only slash power bills but also contribute to a better environment. Realizing it was time to do their part, the county joined the Rebuild America movement in 1998.

That was just the beginning of a whole new way of building in Sarasota County. By 2001, the county was the first in the state to provide a LEED™ Training Workshop, which drew attendees from all over Florida and a few from out of state.

With a $7.2-million annual electric bill hanging over its head, the county pressed on with its efforts. Patton, who previously worked in facilities maintenance/management and long-range planning during his 29-year tenure with the county, moved to the newly created position of energy coordinator in 2003 to help the county better manage its electrical use. The county joined the U.S. EPA’s Energy Star® program in 2004.

“We also have an Energy Star building,” Patton notes. The county’s 133,000-square-foot judicial building, built in 2003, was rated in the top 20 percent of the most efficient buildings in the nation.

“We gave the architects and engineers some ideas and specs on lighting and types of air-conditioning and said, ‘This is what we’re looking for,’ ” recalls Patton. “We didn’t know how efficient it would be, and it stood up to Energy Star.”

Momentum toward a more sustainable county continued to grow, as did a mounting sense of excitement.

This past March, the county passed a green building ordinance that mandates all public buildings be built to green building standards. The ordinance also provides incentives for private developers to do the same.

The ordinance states that it is now county policy to “finance, plan, design, construct, manage, renovate, commission, maintain, and deconstruct its facilities and buildings to be sustainable.” All buildings constructed or owned by the county must meet the highest level of high-performance building certification possible, not “merely the minimum level of [the] U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED, [the] Florida Green Building Coalition Green Buildings certification, or any comparable performance criterion.”

If any new county building or facility is not applicable to the USGBC’s LEED, at minimum, the county must incorporate the LEED checklist into planning and construction of that facility. All major renovations and remodels of county facilities also must incorporate sustainable design and construction in the form of LEED certification or another “comparable certification standard” for existing buildings.

“Everyone has a universal problem. You’re not getting the building you wanted, whether it comes down to energy efficiency, health concerns, environmental concerns, or even operating properly,” Patton says. “If we put in the specs that we want a LEED-certified building, we’re going to get more of what we want.”

The county already has set an example and demonstrated its commitment and leadership through high-performance design and construction with a number of new projects.

The resolution also sets the stage for voluntary participation by the private sector. General Manager Building Official Paul Radauskas, from the county’s planning and development services and permitting and inspection departments, helped devise some attractive incentives for voluntary participation from owners and developers. These incentives include:

  • Fast-track permitting for building permits.
  • Reduced building permit fees, totaling 50 percent up to a maximum of $1,000, and up to a maximum of $5,000 per person or entity.

The county has set aside a maximum of $50,000 per year to cover the building permit fee refunds.

Each building enrolled in the program is subject to inspections throughout the construction process to ensure the building is being built as specified and is keeping with its green building mission, Patton says. All of Radauskas’ inspectors are certified through the Florida Green Building Coalition.

“If someone wants to go LEED, that certainly would qualify, too,” Patton says. “We do advertise them as green buildings. At year-end, there’s going to be a green building award and public recognition for the participant we feel does the best job with it. The builders are on-board. The county and community are working together. Our community is very supportive.”

Robin Suttell ([email protected]), based in Cleveland, is contributing editor at Buildings magazine.

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