Article from the Trib...
Sustainability Center ready to rise to ‘green’ future
Legislature’s $80 million bond lays groundwork for new downtown building
BY STEVE LAW
The Portland Tribune, Jul 14, 2009
Downtown Portland looks like it’ll get the world’s greenest large building, near Portland State University.
The trail-blazing Oregon Sustainability Center appears to be viable, after the Oregon Legislature granted $80 million in construction funding and consultants decreed that it’s possible for the 13-story building to produce all its own energy and recycle its water and sewage.
The project, a collaboration between the Oregon University System, city of Portland, Portland Community College, environmental and other groups, aims to be the world’s first large-scale “Living Building,” a self-sustaining structure producing no net carbon emissions and putting no demands on the community’s water and sewer systems.
In the waning days of the legislative session, lawmakers OK’d an $80 million bond that would be paid off more than 30 years from building rents. Gov. Ted Kulongoski supports the project and will sign the funding bill, spokesman Rem Nivens said Tuesday.
The money “provides the resources that we need to make this project happen,” said Andrea Durbin, Oregon Environmental Council executive director, and part of a working group putting the project together.
Solar panels, energy efficiency
The feasibility study, released in late June by the project development team, showed that the technical requirements for the building can be met, she said. That report, by Gerding Edlen Development, GBD and SERA architects, Hoffman Construction and others, concluded that a 222,800-square-foot building can be erected on the infill site that meets a 2006 open challenge by green building proponents to create the world’s largest and most advanced green building.
The development team concluded the building could produce all its own energy using a geothermal system and photovoltaic solar panels, plus energy-saving office practices such as laptop computers instead of desktop computers, said Lisa Abuaf, co-project manager for the Portland Development Commission. The building would use existing technology to treat and reuse all water and sewage from the building, she said.
The Oregon Sustainability Center would house a variety of public, academic and environmental groups on the site of an existing parking lot on Montgomery Street between Southwest Fourth and Fifth avenues.
Not surprisingly, the feasibility study determined that the special features in the project would be costly, for a total estimated $102 million price tag. At that rate, there’s a sizable funding gap, and tenants would pay sky-high rents of nearly $32 a square foot.
Planners asked the project development team to work over the summer to get the costs down to $90 million, without reducing the building’s size, Durbin said.
That would still leave a funding gap of about $5 million, which backers hope to raise through a combination of federal money procured by the Oregon congressional delegation, federal stimulus grants and fundraising by nonprofit groups. The goal is to get rents down to the mid- to high-$20s per square foot.
A waiting list
Many government and nonprofit environmental groups are anxious to co-locate in the building, where they’d hope to work jointly on sustainability-oriented projects, including university research. Tenants would have lower operating costs because there would be minimal utility bills, and they’d expect to share conference rooms, computers and other facilities.
There’s a demand from participating groups for 250,000 square feet of office space, more room than is envisioned in the building, Abuaf said. There also is a waiting list.
However, even rents in the mid-$20s will be a stretch for many tenants. That’s close to what many downtown Class A high rises charge.
Oregon Environmental Council now rents space for $15 a square foot in Old Town, Durbin said.
Environmental groups hope to ultimately own their own spaces in Oregon Sustainability Center, via some form of condominium structure.
The project could break ground by next fall, with construction to last through 2012, Abuaf said.
Backers expect it will enhance Portland’s competitive advantage in the green building, technology and services sectors, providing economic development opportunities as other communities seek to replicate the building.