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City Hall Goes Green


BY N’JERI EATON//

After 10 years of city services displaced at sites across the city and over two years of construction, the new El Cerrito City Hall opened its doors this month.

The new building stands as both a monument to local government and a move to create a more green, sustainable city. Planning stages began back in 2004, when El Cerrito hired BSA Architects, a firm known for its environmentally friendly designs. The city’s goal was to think about sustainable design without necessarily going through the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, certification, which is a set of criteria and standards for green building accreditation. Despite this, the city expects to get the official LEED certification by January.

Architect George Janson believes being environmentally friendly doesn’t need to be expensive; the focus should be on practicality. “It’s not the most expensive, just good, solid design,” he said. “Green design isn’t just about bamboo, but being able to create healthy spaces for people.”

For example, architects made sure to integrate natural daylight throughout the space as much as possible. Janson cut holes through walls or removed them entirely to create a more open, airy floor plan. “Transparency between spaces makes it a very nice place to be, not just sustainable,” he said.

At the front entrance, floor-to-ceiling windows replaced walls, allowing natural light to brighten each room. Janson said the windows offer an alternative light source and represent the transparent, open nature of the El Cerrito government. “It reflects the easy-going attitude of the city, not an inaccessible government,” he said. “It reflects they way they like to do things here.”

The emphasis on employing energy-efficient light systems will save the city money. “They’re finding that during the day, they don’t use a lot of light,” Janson said. Every room is equipped with motion sensor lights. When a room is no longer occupied, the lights will automatically switch off.

The city hall’s new radiant hydronic heating system also reduces costs. Hot water stored in the floor heats the room, creating a steady interior temperature. This kind of system can reduce heating costs by more than 30 percent.

Water efficiency is another area where designers reduced spending and energy. Low flush toilets are installed in every bathroom, exceeding government standards by 40 percent. The irrigation system for the bay friendly landscape includes an above-ground spray. According to Janson, the city hall uses “50 percent less of what you would normally use at a comparable building.”

As a part of a countywide mandate for new construction, architects developed an underground storage system for rainwater. During storms, the water falls through small vents around city hall where it is collected and used for irrigation.

The city hall site is accessible to public transportation and provides convenient bike racks. “The location is incredible. People overlook it, but that’s what sustainable design is all about,” said Janson.

For Janson, the greatest accomplishment of the plan was using simple and cost-saving methods to create the city’s first green public building. “We didn’t start by going through the LEED score card,” he said. “It was just good common sense.”

The city hall has an extensive display about green building for residents who want to learn more about the site and how they can incorporate some of the design elements into their own homes.

Watch the slide show for examples of city hall’s green design.  If you have a comment about this story, we would like to hear about it.

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