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O'Malley's goal: 'green' buildings

The Baltimore Sun

ST. MARY'S CITY -- From the outside, the new brick classroom building at St. Mary's College looks much like the other Colonial-style structures on the riverfront campus of this small, historic liberal-arts school.

But inside, Goodpaster Hall represents something very different for St. Mary's - and for the rest of Maryland. From the recycled wood flooring to the sod covering part of its roof, it is one of the state's first "green" college buildings, and a potential prototype for many more such taxpayer-funded facilities to come.

Gov. Martin O'Malley has proposed legislation that would require using energy- and resource-efficient building design and materials in all newly constructed or significantly renovated state buildings, as well as in all state-financed public school buildings - even if they cost a little more to build. Advocates say the buildings will save money on energy bills in the long run.

"It's just the right thing to do, and now is the right time to do it," said Alvin C. Collins, secretary of the Department of General Services, which oversees the state's building projects. A hearing is scheduled today on the administration's bill.

Growing concerns about rising energy costs and the threat of global warming are driving the spread of green buildings across the country. If the governor's bill passes, Maryland would join about two dozen other states and dozens of cities and counties that have adopted laws, policies or regulations to incorporate energy-saving and environmental features into new public facilities, such as compact fluorescent lighting, solar or geothermal heating, bamboo flooring and nontoxic wall coatings.

Fifth-greenest state

Maryland, ranked fifth-greenest among the states in a recent survey by Forbes magazine, has been toying with green-building technology for years. Former Gov. Parris N. Glendening set up a Maryland Green Building Council in 2001 and ordered the construction of two state-funded pilot projects to show the way - one of them the recently finished Goodpaster Hall at St. Mary's.

The legislature also adopted a tax credit for commercial green buildings in 2001 - which proved so popular that the $25 million in credits were used up three years ago.

But green-government-building bills last year fell victim to lawmakers' worries that the mandate could be costly at a time when they were facing a huge budget deficit in future years. Legislators asked the Green Building Council to study the issue.

The council, made up of architects and state agency representatives, is urging the state to require large new buildings and major renovations be built to meet or exceed the U.S. Green Building Council's "silver" standard, the second rung on a scale that goes up to gold and platinum.

2 percent higher cost

Achieving that standard could increase construction costs by as much as 2 percent, the council says. In Maryland, an extra 2 percent could add $22.7 million to the cost of 29 state building projects planned over the next five years, according to the state Department of Budget and Management.

But advocates point out that studies have shown that green buildings save enough in utility costs over the years to more than repay the added upfront cost.

Goodpaster Hall cost $27.5 million, including $570,000 extra to incorporate green-building elements into the design and construction. Since it just opened for classes, it's too soon to analyze utility costs, but officials estimate the energy- and water-saving features should save about $65,000 a year.

The building, which houses the school's chemistry, psychology and educational studies classes, lacks some obvious green features, such as solar panels. But it includes waterless urinals and a "gray-water" system in its bathrooms, with sink water disinfected and recycled back through low-flow toilets. It also features many windows, efficient lighting and an "energy recovery wheel" in the attic, recapturing the heat from exhaust air being vented from the building.

"I think we're satisfied now that there are projected savings, and there are enough projects that have been documented in other areas that give those kinds of trends," said Del. Norman H. Conway, a Wicomico County Democrat and chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.

The measure appears to have support even among some Republicans, who have pressed for reducing rather than increasing state spending.

"It may have a little more cost in the beginning, but it will save money in the long run," said Del. Susan L.M. Aumann, a Republican from Baltimore County, where the school system's electricity costs jumped 62 percent from 2004 through last year.

David G. Lever, executive director of the state's Interagency Committee on School Construction, welcomed the governor's move, though he noted that without more funding to cover the higher costs of green building techniques, some projects might get delayed.

The governor's bill requires counties to share any added costs of building green schools, which could be a problem, said Del. LeRoy E. Myers Jr., an Allegany County Republican who otherwise is an enthusiastic backer of the green-building bill.

Favors concept

Sen. David R. Brinkley, the minority leader from Frederick County, said he also favors the concept of green buildings but remains skeptical that the extra costs are small in all cases.

But Del. Dan K. Morhaim, a Baltimore County Democrat, contends that green buildings more than pay for themselves, pointing to studies finding reduced absenteeism and increased productivity - not to mention improved test scores in green schools.

"You have to get on the green-building track sooner or later," Morhaim said.

For St. Mary's, one green building project has spawned another - the school is constructing a new student services center with similar recycled materials, energy-efficient fixtures and water-saving systems.

Rachel Clement, an environmentally active St. Mary's senior from Annapolis, said the new Goodpaster building fits in well with students' growing environmental concerns.

"Global warming is really the challenge of our generation," she said. "The fact that this has energy-efficient lighting and everything green about it gives us a sort of pride," she said. "Hopefully, it's a sign of more to come."


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