'Green' Practices Put Wash. in the Red
Sunday, May 08, 2005
SEATTLE — Seattle's new city hall and justice center have received awards for their environmentally sensitive design. But just two years after opening, both buildings are plagued with problems — and fixing them is going to cost taxpayers millions.
"These green buildings may be synonymous with more green coming out of our wallets," said Jason Mercier of the Evergreen Freedom Foundation.
Seattle Deputy Mayor Tim Ceis said the experience is one Seattle (search) can learn from.
"One of the reasons for us to lead with this is so that we can learn from it," Ceis said. "See what's a cost benefit and what just doesn't work."
For example, the light-reflecting shelves in the building haven't worked -- intended to reduce electric bills, workers complain of glare. An oxygen-producing, rainwater-preserving "green roof" died and will have to be re-seeded with heartier plants. Boilers have exploded. Cops have trouble getting hot water to their locker rooms. Offices are too hot or too cold.
"Tenants are uncomfortable and we are wasting money heating and cooling air that is not reaching them," according to one city report.
"This is the same sort of problem they're having everywhere, and the more that you mandate this system and the more, in some cases, that you try to fit a square peg in a round hole, you're going to see these costs go up," said Todd Myers, director of the center for environmental policy (search) at the Washington Policy Center.
One Tacoma middle school was expected to save 35 percent on energy (search), but it's actually using 25 percent more than a conventional building because boilers work harder to make the air fresh. On the up side, one high school in Redmond saves $20,000 a year on energy.
"If you look at it holistically, it's better for the community, it's better for our workers, it's better for our kids to build these buildings to environmental standards that will have long-lasting operational savings and environmental benefits," said Cliff Traisman of Washington Conservation Voters.
In June, Washington will become the first state to require all tax-funded buildings to be green. But with the results they've had so far, protecting the environment could break the bank.