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Volume 15, Issue 41 ~ October 11 - October 17, 2007

Taking the LEED

Historic Highland Beach builds a platinum town hall

by Carrie Madren, Bay Weekly staff writer

Highland Beach citizens made it a tradition to show black-and-white films at their special gatherings — back before their beachside community pavilion washed away in a hurricane 20 years ago.

When the town council wanted a new place to host its movie night, they never dreamed of a state-of-the-art green building. Yet their new 2,200-square-foot community center is ranked as one of U.S. Green Building Council’s two platinum level buildings in Maryland (the other is the nearby and much larger Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s Phillip Merrill Center).

“It was conceived just as a community building, not a green building,” says former town mayor Crystal Chissell. The journey from idea to functional green building spanned three governor’s administrations.

The journey started with an obstacle: drainage. Plans for the new building — with a footprint considerably larger than the original town hall — couldn’t satisfy stormwater drainage requirements. For more than a year, the project stalled, until the town hall’s planning committee and designer Aris T. Allen Associates settled on a green roof and a series of surrounding rain gardens.

“The delays because of the difficulty with the stormwater were actually a blessing,” says Chissell. Otherwise they would have built “just another community building.”

To gain recognition as a certified project — bearing the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design award — current mayor William Sanders had to complete mountains of paperwork in application.

The LEED rating system, which is constantly refined and developed, assigns scores for buildings based on how many energy-efficient and sustainable materials and methods the builder uses. Then, through the online application process, projects are awarded Certified, Silver, Gold or Platinum.

“It’s no fad,” said Tom Mawson of the U.S. Green Building Council of the country’s new wave of green construction. “It’s truly coming; builders are learning about it. In D.C., all new construction after 2010 will have to be LEED certified.”

Because Highland Beach’s new town hall met the most stringent requirements, for the platinum award, the community got a $2,250 refund from the application fee.

In addition to highly energy-efficient windows, bamboo wood floors, fluorescent lights, loads of insulation, solar panels and special energy-saving ceiling fans, the building boasts a high-tech weather station that also monitors energy usage. The first-year energy bill came out to a mere $230. Even with special features for the movie nights — a 156-inch screen and fancy Bose sound system in the 552-square-foot meeting space — the building is an energy miser from construction to operation.

“We reclaimed all the materials we could,” says builder Richard Healy of Thomas Point Custom Renovations. Wood that contained lead paint couldn’t be reused. To meet LEED standards, materials have to come from within a certain radius of the project, to keep transportation pollution down. To get the sustainably grown wood that Healy needed from California, he balanced out the transportation emissions with other energy savings.

A geothermal heating system, for instance, runs loops of water some 350 feet below ground to cool off in the summer and warm up in the winter. Ground temperature, Healy says, stays about 57 degrees year round, making geothermal an efficient alternative to heating or cooling outside air. Wind energy purchased from American Wind Energy saved some 14,953 pounds of carbon dioxide. The sheetrock, builder Healy says, used gypsum build-up scraped from the insides of smokestacks in Pennsylvania.

“It’s a puzzle,” he says, “figuring out what you need and where you get it.”

Welcoming the new building is an old community with deep roots. Highland Beach, which celebrated the 85th anniversary of its charter on Labor Day, is a traditionally African American Bayfront community at the end of Annapolis Neck, founded by Charles Douglass, son of abolitionist Frederick Douglass. Only about 60 homes and 100 year-round citizens make up the village of tightly packed homes, though the number of residents doubles in summertime. Twenty-two residents drive electric-powered golf carts to visit neighbors or get to the beach.

“It didn’t cost the residents of this community anything,” Sanders said of the new town hall. The $500,565 bill was paid for by grants from Anne Arundel County, the state of Maryland and the Maryland Energy Administration.

Funds for the half-million-dollar building came through county and state taxpayer money. Still, you have to be a community resident to use the building. Movie nights and other social gatherings hosted on site aren’t open to non-residents.

But the community — which boasts the first woman mayor in the state and the first African American municipality in Maryland — now holds a platinum place among green buildings.

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