NIH Bethesda campus goes green
Agency gets $500 million Recovery Act grant for construction, renovation
A world-renowned medical facility in Bethesda that has contributed to saving millions of lives is taking on a new patient the environment.
The National Institutes of Health will break ground this month on a new science building and renovation projects in outdated buildings, in an effort to improve the energy efficiency and sustainability of the agency's campus spurred by a $500 million Recovery Act grant. The money is intended for high-priority repair, construction and improvement projects and must be used by the end of 2015.
The grant will springboard a green movement at NIH that has been in the works, but unfunded, for at least eight years. The agency is required by federal mandate to bring 15 percent of its campus to federal sustainability and energy standards by 2015.
"We're much closer to zero, now," said Glen Stonebraker, who is overseeing NIH's Recovery Act projects through the Office of Research Facilities and is the agency's director of green buildings.
One of President Barack Obama's first initiatives after taking office in 2009, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act was intended to help the economy recover by creating jobs, stimulating economic growth and encouraging transparency in government spending. The legislation included $275 billion for federal contracts, grants and loans.
The Recovery Act projects at NIH will create 2,500 jobs, Stonebraker said.
Setting an example
The green improvements will have tangible effects on the NIH campus, but the federal agency's effort at environmental consciousness is sowing the seeds for a greener Montgomery County, green building experts say.
"They're one of the more significant pieces of property in the immediate area here," said Dave Heffernan, a spokesman for Bethesda Green, a nonprofit that works with green businesses to promote sustainability. "The fact that they're taking these issues as a priority is significant, clearly."
Eric Coffman, a senior energy planner for the county's department of environmental protection, agreed that the value of government leading by example cannot be overstated.
Montgomery County is doing its part to set a good example, Coffman said. In 2007, the county adopted a similar green building regulation to the one NIH must meet and requires new county buildings to meet a LEED silver standard. LEED is an internationally recognized green building standard developed by the U.S. Green Building Council. Platinum is the highest LEED certification.
The county received a federal $7.6 million Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block grant, which will be put toward improvements in government buildings and in the private sector, training for building operators and other green industry professionals, and home performance retrofits on about 50 townhouses and garden-style apartments owned by the Housing Opportunities Commission of Montgomery County, said Coffman.
Coffman said he has seen an increase in green building projects and green building businesses. More students are coming to the county, asking about green building internships; more businesses are embracing green techniques.
"We are starting to get that culture change," Coffman said.
The nuts and bolts
The largest portion of the NIH's federal Recovery Act grant, $175.7 million, will go toward the second phase of a laboratory and research facility, the John Edward Porter Neuroscience Research Center.
The second structure of the research center will house the neuroscience departments of seven institutes, which will allow them to work more collaboratively on research about brain disorders such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases, autism, depression and schizophrenia. Neuroscience researchers from two additional institutes are already at work in the Porter I building. A column of glass-walled conference rooms will join the existing Porter I to the 293,700 square foot Porter II building.
The agency plans to reduce water use 30 percent by installing toilets that use half as much water as standard fixtures and motion-sensor sinks that limit water flow, and to reduce energy consumption by 30 percent with LED lighting, Energy Star equipment, automatic dimming on lights, and ground source heating, which will use the water below the building to control the temperature.
The second-largest project will be a $160.3 million renovation of the 13-floor F wing in the Clinical Center. The wing is a former hospital and lab area built in the 1950s that has remained largely abandoned since those facilities relocated to a research center adjoined to the Clinical Center in 2005.
Going above and beyond
Much of the work stems from an executive order by former President George W. Bush that set sustainability goals for construction and required federal agencies to bring 15 percent of buildings larger than 5,000 square feet into compliance with those goals by 2015. President Barack Obama reinforced Bush's 2007 order with more stringent energy requirements and greenhouse gas guidelines in 2009.
NIH is going beyond those requirements, which officials said they consider an alternate route toward furthering the institutes' goal to improve public health.
"We're protecting the environmentwe're also protecting public health," said Kenny Floyd, the director of environmental protection for NIH.
Goals are set for a 35 percent to 40 percent improvement in energy efficiency, at least 5 percent above the requirement, and 30 percent water reduction, 10 percent above the requirement.
Rather than knocking down unwanted buildings, NIH buildings are deconstructed in a way that recycles at least 75 percent of the materials, Floyd said.
The changes will save money. The Porter II building will save about $1 million a year in energy costs.
About 100 NIH employees based at a leased property in Rockville will relocate to the Bethesda campus when construction is finished. NIH will save about $3 million in leasing costs once the move is complete.