Committing to building green in the early stages of a project can result in a payoff that exceeds expectations. Florida’s Escambia County learned this firsthand when they decided to build a multipurpose, high-performance office building in Pensacola. The county hired architect Steve Jernigan and his Pensacola-based firm, Bay Design Associates Architects. Sustainability was part of the plan from the start and through strategic choices in program and materials, the project was able to earn a LEED Gold rating from the Washington, D.C.–based U.S. Green Building Council.
The new office needed to be many things for many people. Eleven county offices, including building inspections, engineering, planning, zoning, and land management, were to be consolidated into a single 79,000-square-foot building. These departments had previously been spread between three separate buildings, so bringing it all together was no small task. Because the majority of these departments work with the design and construction industries, Jernigan wanted to create an appropriately designed building that he and his peers would appreciate visiting again and again.
Government buildings can sometimes be overly ornate or monumental. In this case, the design team didn’t want the new office to be seen as over-designed or unnecessarily costly. “Since this building serves the engineering, design, and construction trades, we wanted to be cognizant of the fact that these individuals know construction and not create something that was really far out there,” Jernigan says.
The Escambia County Central Office Complex opened in August 2010; four years after the project began. Soon after, it was awarded LEED Gold status. This designation was earned largely due to the project’s innovation and energy points, and also because of the fact that 43 percent of the building’s materials came from locally harvested products and recycled content—predominantly metal.
Qualifying for LEED Gold wasn’t a part of the initial plan, but becoming the first building in Escambia County to receive a LEED certification was. The clients were very supportive of the project’s sustainable goals and had access to a portion of a $1.4 billion grant awarded to innovate stormwater quality programs.
Jernigan found that making smart, efficient design choices throughout the duration of the project paved the path to LEED Gold. “You need a champion at the owner level,” he remarks. “We definitely had the buy-in on the county side. They said, let’s get basic certification and if we have the opportunity to go for a higher level, let’s do it.”
Key to Gold
Bay Design Architects’ director of sustainable design, Kelly Wieczorek, understood that steel is one of the most recycled products in the world and using recycled metal panels gave the building an exemplary performance credit. However, the recycled nature of metal was just one reason for specifying the material. Durability was another important factor.
“We learned that LEED doesn’t really cost money; the numbers that seem to be traditionally thrown around are that a basic Certified building costs 2 or 3 percent more than a normal building, then you increase to 5 or 6 percent for Silver and as much as 10 percent for Gold. We didn’t find that at all. I think just by using good design and thinking about things early on in the process, you can do a project for pretty close to what a well designed, well thought-out building is going to be anyway. The real payoff is in maintenance and energy savings. Ten years down the road, on a dollar-per-square-foot basis for operational costs, this building is going to cost much less than other comparable buildings.” —Steve Jernigan, Bay Design Associates Architects, project lead for the Escambia County Office Complex
Jernigan first used galvalume panels on a local roofing project 30 years ago. After a recent drive past that building, he was amazed to see that the roof showed no signs of rust or need for replacement, despite the numerous hurricanes the Gulf Coast has experienced in the interim. Using largely recycled materials that could withstand the fierce winds and pelting rain during hurricane season, as well as endure the everyday salt spray found in Pensacola’s highly corrosive coastal environment remained a high priority for building a sustainable, long-lasting, low-maintenance building.
Jernigan selected bare galvalume metal panels to adorn the walls. He estimates the non-painted panels will last 50 years, or the lifespan of the building. According to Jernigan, maintenance of the panels should remain low—there’s an aluminized coating on top of the galvalume steel that self-heals if a scrape or cut edge occurs.
“We wanted something with a utilitarian look, and that’s one of the reasons we went with the unpainted panel,” Jernigan explains. “It was much less expensive than putting brick all the way around the building. There also are very large windows and it wasn’t practical to use brick because of the support structure and flashing issues that occur with a 30-foot-wide span of brick. So we used some brick as vertical elements and put the metal panels above the windows because they don’t require substantial structural support.”
From Roofs to Walls
Longtime installers and proponents of metal roofing systems, Jernigan and his team had never worked with metal wall panels before. There were some adjustments to be made. Metal roof panel installation requires either a series of curlers or continuous metal decking that provides a solid backing for clipping or screwing in the panels, but attaching metal wall panels required the fabrication of a supplementary framing system.
“We used heavy-gauge galvanized straps in lieu of hat channels because it gave us some flexibility and more width for clip attachment,” explains Brad Davis of Milton, Fla.–based West Coast Metal Roofing and Construction, the metal panel fabricator on the project. For the installation of the walls, the panels were attached with a clip system so they could float instead of being screwed into the substrate.
The team had to consider how the panel would flash with the top of the window opening. In addition, at the bottom is a transition from a window sill to the panel below it, so they had to determine how a piece of flashing could waterproof and create an airtight seal at the slabs and window jambs.
“We had to account for the expansion and contraction on the long run panels on the south side of the building as it heated up during the day and cooled off in the evening,” Davis recalls. “You want to make sure the wall panel lengths don’t exceed 20 feet for the expansion and contraction of the panels and possible oil canning.” When using metal panels on exterior walls, Davis recommends keeping the design fairly simple with as few wall openings or penetrations as possible so that flashing in these areas doesn’t become overly complicated.
Working closely with Davis helped Jernigan and his team conquer the learning curve for using metal wall panels. Jernigan learned to be strategic about how the panels attach and how they would work with other building systems. Constructing a mock-up and test fit around a window taught a vital lesson. Originally, Jernigan believed a seal flashing under the window would be a single piece; however, after the window installer completed his work and the installers started theirs, he realized that creating flashing in two pieces and then joining them in the field proved to be the most efficient, effective process.
Confident in the metal panels and now comfortable using them for both roofing and wall systems, Jernigan and his team are using the panels on a new two-story county building. He says the vertical ribs of the metal panels will provide the illusion of raising the building, thereby accentuating the vertical.
Wieczorek also came to appreciate the value of metal wall systems. “Looking at the same proven material in a new way gives designers another opportunity to make a building look better and have another aesthetic,” she says.
Sabrina Grotewold writes about architecture and sustainability from San Diego.
How to Get Gold
Advice for navigating the LEED checklist
Kelly Wieczorek, the director of sustainable design for Bay Design Architects in Pensacola, Fla., led the effort to achieve LEED Gold certification for the Escambia County Office Complex. Following are some of her tips for qualifying.
Start early. “You want to get some of the smaller points first, things that every project is capable of getting—a lot of them have to do with the materials you use.”
Have a goal. “The basic ideals of good design can be the key to having LEED certification.”
Get site points. “We used an existing site that was previously a shopping center; we got a lot of site credits that way.”
Get rewarded for innovation. “Half of the lot is pervious concrete paving, which allows rainwater to seep through and go directly to a stone and sand base.”
Investigate grants. “We received a grant specifically for water quality, so we built a green roof. A marine biologist is planting watermelons on the roof that they’re going to eat at the annual county picnic next year.”Use local, recycled materials. “We got 43 percent of the total cost of our materials from recycled content, and steel was a big part of that.”Get credit for saving energy. “We had a really tight envelope: energy-efficient windows, good R-value for the walls and roof.”