The following article was written by St. Louis County Property Management Director Tony Mancuso. It was originally published in the Duluth Budgeteer on February 14, 2016.
We have quite the range of buildings in St. Louis County. Our courthouses in Duluth and Virginia are more than 100 years old and are listed on the National Register of Historic Sites. Meanwhile, the Government Services Center in Duluth – following extensive renovations completed a few months ago – is virtually brand new. But these buildings, along with the Hibbing Courthouse and Hibbing Annex building, all have something in common – they’ve received Energy Star ® certification.
The Energy Star designation is awarded by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to buildings that use an average of 35-percent less energy and emit 35-percent less greenhouse gas than average buildings.
Energy efficiency is something we work hard to achieve in St. Louis County, and it goes much farther than simply reminding employees to turn off the lights and shut down computers at the end of the day. The County Board has been a strong advocate of these efforts, passing a series of resolutions over the years that commit us to such goals as maintaining recycling programs, minimizing waste, ensuring our buildings are sustainable, reducing fuel and energy consumption (and costs!) , reducing greenhouse gas emissions and to be good environmental stewards even through our purchasing programs.
The Property Management department developed a sustainability plan a few years back that says we “will seek to achieve sustainability in county buildings by improving the building shells, what's inside the buildings, and providing guidance on how the equipment and systems inside the building should be used most effectively and efficiently.”
So what are some examples? The roof of the Government Services Center (GSC) is home to both wind turbines and a series of solar panels. The solar panels – three different models – were installed two years ago as part of a study involving Minnesota Power and the Natural Resources Research Institute (NRRI). So not only are we reducing our own energy costs by grabbing solar heat, we are helping two strong community partners to test which model works best in an urban environment in a climate such as ours.
Another remarkable feature in the GSC is the heating and ventilation system, which is able to transfer energy from one side of the building to the other. This maintains an even temperature throughout, no matter which side of the building the sun is shining on at any given point in the day.
The lighting in the building is equally adaptable. The GSC features LED lighting throughout that is attached to sensors, so lights automatically dim or brighten depending on the amount of natural light coming in through the windows.
Kitty corner from the GSC is the County’s motor pool garage, the roof of which is a maze of gardens. This “green roof” does more than provide opportunity for fresh vegetables in the midst of an urban environment. It reduces energy costs, prolongs the life of the buildings heating and ventilation system, and redirects storm water runoff for positive irrigation use.
We’ve also added a green roof to the sally port entrance to the Courthouse, and solar panels to the top level of the parking ramps behind the courthouse.
Energy costs make up a huge portion of the county’s facility operating costs, which is why we’ve made it a priority to control our energy consumption. But beyond energy efficiency and conservation, we make decisions that will give our buildings long lives. We insist on low maintenance design and construction in our building projects. Adding in renewable energy components is the icing on the cake!
We are committed to being a state-wide leader in sustainable facility management and to continuously promote best practices in building design, construction, maintenance and operation. When we succeed (and we are), it’s you, the taxpayer, who saves.