The Gazette covers City Hall, now a flood-damaged icon on May's Island in the Cedar River

Posts Tagged ‘sustainability’

Get ready for more poster boards: City Hall set to launch a public-input process on energy in the midst of one on key, flood-damaged buildings

In City Hall on July 7, 2009 at 8:56 am

Put July 23 on your calendar.

City Hall is starting another public participation process — no doubt, with the room filled with poster boards, city staff and a sprinkling of consultants.

The latest push is gain public input on a City Hall energy policy.

This comes even as City Hall is already in the midst of a second public participation process related to the city’s key, flood-damaged buildings, which include the Veterans Memorial Building/City Hall, the downtown library, the bus depot and the old federal courthouse. The next open house related to facilities is Aug. 18.
On the energy front, the city wants the public’s help on three tasks: to devise a city energy management plan; to implement a plan to turn biomass waste like sewage sludge and municipal garbage into energy; and to adopt an approach to incorporate LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) standards into the city’s building practices.

In a presentation to the City Council last week, Pat Ball, the city’s utilities director, says the city has funding from a $1.3-million federal Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant plus $250,000 from the Iowa Power Fund, the latter which requires a $250,000 city match.

The city already has embarked on a waste-to-energy study, which could provide steam to parts of the downtown and/or elsewhere in the city.

Ball said the time is perfect for such study.

The city not only needs to replace its incinerator at the city’s Water Pollution Control facility, but the federal government appears ready to implement a “cap-and-trade” system that will make alternative energy all the more attractive, Ball told the council.

Ball said, too, that Cedar Rapids and Iowa are right in the middle of the area in the country where there is plenty of biomass from agricultural production and other sources to help fuel waste-to-energy projects.

City documents note the city is getting help from three professional engineering firms: HDR, with headquarters in Omaha, Neb., and an office in Hiawatha; Foth, with headquarters in Green Bay, Wis., and an office in Cedar Rapids; and Sebesta Blomberg & Associates, with headquarters in Roseville, Minn., and an office in Cedar Rapids.

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June 23, Aug. 18 and Oct. 6 are three dates for open houses on flood-damaged city buildings: Should city government return to May’s Island among the great questions

In City Hall, Floods on June 3, 2009 at 4:12 pm

City officials report that they will hold three public open houses over a three-and-half-month period to get the public’s input on what the city should do with its key flood-damaged buildings.

The open houses will be held June 23, Aug. 18 and Oct. 6.

The dates were noted Wednesday during an hour-long discussion between city officials and The Gazette’s editorial board.

In the session, Mayor Kay Halloran and Brian Fagan, council member and mayor pro tem, insisted that the council and city officials have no “preconceived” notion of what the future holds for the city’s public buildings going into the public input process.

At the same time, the city will use a facilities framework, which the council approved earlier this year.
The framework makes a case for the city to consider organizing many of its services into a Community Services Center and a Community Operations Center. The framework also calls for the city to consider opening or building a Public Safety Training Center.

Halloran and Fagan said a Community Services Center – which will be a version of a City Hall — and Community Operations Center – which will be a version of a Public Works Building — do not need to be new buildings. They may be existing buildings, they said.

In response to several questions about the flood-damaged Veterans Memorial Building on May’s Island, which has housed City Hall since the 1920s, neither the mayor and Fagan nor City Manager Jim Prosser and four other city officials at the meeting expressed any sentiment for returning city government to the building. It wasn’t as if they opposed the idea. But no one used the time to promote the idea.

In response to one question, Prosser repeated what he has said in the past: the Veterans Memorial Building, like the flood-damaged Paramount Theatre, has historic standing and must be renovated even if the cost of flood insurance for the buildings could be sizable. Prosser said the city is planning to meet with the state insurance commissioner, who has the power to waive flood insurance requirements on the public buildings.

The city officials spent some time, too, talking about the word sustainability when asked if it is possible to make an existing building as “sustainable” as a new building.

In part, the city’s talk about sustainability centers on the cost to operate a building – heating and cooling it, for instance – over the 50 or 100 years that the building will stand.

Fagan also pointed to what he said was a social component of sustainability, which he seems to tie to a building’s usability by the public. This raises the question, can a seven-story or eight-story building be as socially sustainable as a two-story one. The city’s temporary City Hall is in a two-story building in a northeast Cedar Rapids office park.

Pat Ball, the city’s utilities director, also pointed to the location of a building and the amount of fuel it might take for people to get to it.

Dan Thies, president of OPN Architects Inc., attended the Wednesday session. OPN has been hired by the city, at a cost of $400,000, to conduct the public participation process on facilities.

Thies said he has staff members at his firm “salivating” over the idea of getting into the Veterans Memorial Building and seeing how it might be reconfigured to function in today’s and tomorrow’s world.

Fagan had noted that it’s not easy to get from the First Avenue side of the building to the Second Avenue side of it.

Among other flood-damaged buildings to be reviewed in the public participation process are the downtown library, the existing federal courthouse and a proposed new community center/recreation center.

The library has sustained more than 50 percent damage, a level of damage that will require the building to be razed and rebuilt in place or elsewhere. The library board wants to build it at another downtown site.

Prosser and the mayor said that the plan remains for the city to take over ownership of the existing, flood-damaged federal courthouse, which the federal government is repairing.

The building also has historic standing, and the plan is for the city’s proposed flood-protection system to protect the building, Prosser and the mayor said.

Building new or renovating flood-damaged public buildings? Linn’s Barron weighs in on the S word — sustainability

In City Hall, Linn County government on May 28, 2009 at 8:23 am

Advocates for returning city government to the flood-damaged and iconic Veterans Memorial Building/City Hall on May’s Island might want to talk to Lu Barron, chairwoman of the Linn County Board of Supervisors.

On June 23, the city of Cedar Rapids will begin the first of a series of open houses in what surely will be a well-attended public participation process to help the City Council decide the future of the city’s flood-damaged buildings.

Those buildings include the Veterans Memorial Building/City Hall, library, Public Works Building and the existing federal courthouse, which the city is slated to take control of once the new federal courthouse opens in the fall of 2012.

One word that will be tossed around as much as any is “sustainability.” In this context, sustainability is the notion that the city should renovate or build new with an eye to energy efficiency and other considerations that help lower a building’s operating costs over time.

It’s not been uncommon for the city officials and City Council members to toss the word “sustainability” around over the last year in a way that leaves the impression that building new buildings is the best way to achieve sustainability.

Tell that to Linn County’s Lu Barron.

In a talk with The Gazette editorial board this week, Barron defended the county’s decisions to withdrawn from a joint public participation process with the city and to return to the county’s flood-damaged Administrative Office Building on First Street SW across from the Penford Products plant.

Barron said the county needed to move more quickly than the city in making decisions about the county’s flood-damaged buildings, and she said it made fiscal sense to return to the existing building rather than building something new.

Then she mentioned the S word.

“One of the most sustainable things you can do is to use an existing building,” Barron said.

She said planned renovations to the county’s Administrative Office Building, which include adding a floor to the building, will add 30, 40 or more years to the life of the structure at, perhaps, half the cost of building a new building.

“I think taxpayers want that out of us,” she said.

Barron acknowledged that prior supervisors some years ago purchased land along the Cedar River near the current city police station with an eye to constructing a new county building and abandoning the Administrative Office Building. It makes financial sense now to stay put and remodel the existing building, Barron said.

To be sure, the county’s Administrative Office Building, which Barron said sits outside the 500-year floodplain, has less flood damage than the city’s Veterans Memorial Building/City Hall on May’s Island.

The county, though, has returned to the courthouse and jail on the island.

Talking green at City Hall until they’re blue in the face

In City Hall, FEMA, Floods, Jim Prosser on February 8, 2009 at 10:50 am

They’ve been talking green at City Hall until they’re blue in the face. And they did last week, too.

In unveiling plans for renovating and/or replacing flood-damaged city buildings, the City Council and the city’s team of engineering and architectural consultants made it clear that any of the work will incorporate “green,” “sustainable” techniques.

Eric Davis, an architect for consultant Camp Dresser & McKee, Inc., used the example of the 30-year-old, flood-damaged downtown public library and how it might be brought back to life — but to a different life than before the flood.

In truth, the city had been trying to figure out a futurist, efficient way to heat and cool the place for some years prior to the flood.

Davis imagined the flood-damaged library with a roof that was part grass or other vegetation — to capture rainwater rather than sending it all into the sewer – and part white in color, which would reflect heat away from it so the building would stay cool in the summer.

The library, too, could come with “superinsulation.” Cisterns could catch rainwater and use it in toilets. There could be trees that lose their leaves close to the building to shade the building in summer and help heat it in winter. The roof also could include solar skylights that track with the sun’s path. And some of the new thermal windows would open to cool the building on some days rather than running air conditioning. There also could be a closed-loop geothermal heating and cooling system.

Davis used the example of the flood-damaged Central Fire Station. He estimated that it would cost an additional $425,000 to add green, sustainable features to the building as part of what is estimated to be a $10-million repair project. He said the upgrade would save $10,000 a year in energy costs – not counting the value that accrues to the nation in using less energy — and save 150,000 gallons of water a year.

It’s still unclear, both with the library and the fire station, if they will be renovated or replaced. Both are in the same boat: the Federal Emergency Management Agency must agree that the buildings sustained flood damage in excess of 50 percent of their value before they pay to replace the buildings. Otherwise, the buildings must be renovated, city officials have said.

It will be fascinating to watch this discussion about green and sustainable in upcoming months and in the next few years.

Both words, green and sustainable, are all the rage from the Potomac River to the Cedar River and beyond.

In discussions here, both words can be used as an argument for building new.

The City Council last week said it was starting a six-month public participation initiative to ask citizens if it should build a brand-new Community Services Center and a brand-new Community Safety Training Center. A services center would mean that city government wouldn’t return to the flood-damaged City Hall on May’s Island.

One idea is to “co-locate,” with city, county and school district locating services in the services center – which might be a building or a campus of buildings. City and county also could both use a new safety training center. The city also is talking about a community operations center, which might be a fancy name for doing some renovations at the existing public works building.

In talking about building new, there is still the fact that the city has two flood-damaged icons that will be renovated in any event. Those are City Hall and the existing federal courthouse on First Street SE, which the city will inherit once the new federal courthouse opens in 2012.

In an interview last week, City Manager Jim Prosser said that the City Council has made it clear that sustainability would be an important feature of the city’s plans moving ahead.

“We have to walk our talk in these areas,” Prosser said. “We can’t say to everybody else, ‘You should be more sustainable’ and we don’t do it. We’ve got to set the standard.”