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WisBusiness: Milwaukee City Hall earns recognition for energy efficiency

By Kay Nolan
For WisBusiness.com

Century-old historical landmarks and ‘green’ buildings might seem worlds apart, but hidden within the ornate, steeplelike Milwaukee City Hall, constructed in 1895 and recently renovated to the tune of $70 million, is a 21st-century success story: The City Hall complex, which includes two attached office buildings, has earned silver LEED certification for energy efficiency.

The icon of Old World architecture is an official ‘green’ building.

The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System is administered by the U.S. Green Building Council, a Washington D.C.-based, nonprofit coalition of building industry. The Council’s Web site says the ratings are based on energy savings, water efficiency, CO2 emissions reduction, improved indoor environmental quality, and stewardship of resources and sensitivity to their impacts.

The Wisconsin Green Building Alliance presented the city’s LEED Silver certification award at the alliance’s annual conference Wednesday in Milwaukee.

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett told attendees that “Thirty or 40 years ago, the environmental movement was viewed as an enemy of the economic movement. What has happened has truly been a transformation. Environmental concerns and business are not enemies; in fact, they are powerful, powerful allies.”

At Milwaukee’s City Hall, completion of the three-year exterior renovation was celebrated last December with the ringing of a long-dormant, 11-ton bell. But inside, the silent motion of thermostats dropping by 2 to 3 degrees on every floor is ringing in taxpayer savings on a daily basis, according to city of Milwaukee operations manager Leonard Moye.

Savings are already adding up. Moye said Tuesday that the complex’s energy bill for the month of August is $113,426, down almost 12 percent from $128,560 in August 2008.

Paul Fredrich, facilities manager for the city, said efforts to improve energy efficiency in the city hall complex have been ongoing for decades, and gained momentum during a major interior renovation in the mid-1990s.

“This really started probably 15 or so years ago, before ‘sustainability’ was even in our vocabulary, or ‘LEED’ or ‘green’ or anything,” said Fredrich.

Heating and air conditioning equipment was replaced. Clerestory windows that bring in natural daylight were installed on the Zeidler Municipal building, which connects by tunnel to city hall. Light fixtures throughout the buildings were replaced to improve efficiency while blending in with the historical style. New controls and motion sensors were installed to allow banks of lights to be turned off in rooms that were not in use.

“Primarily, the energy users in any kind of facility are the mechanical equipment for heating and air conditioning, and of course, lighting,” said Fredrich.

“We’re going to more hydronic radiant heating on the perimeter of the buildings, which is more energy efficient,” he said, “and variable air volume on the air conditioning side, with heating and cooling coils at point locations. Instead of heating or cooling a whole area, let’s just do a small quadrant where the thermostat is calling for it.”

The city hall complex earned Energy Star rating in 2007 from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy.

The recent renovation, while mostly focused on repairing City Hall’s crumbling exterior, did play into the overall effort. Some 1,900 windows were replaced with Thermopane glass and then rebuilt using the original wood frames and sashes, so as not to change the authentic look. Modern weatherstripping was added to further reduce heat loss.

In addition, exterior accent lights that highlight the building’s architectural elements at night were replaced with more energy-efficient units, said Ron Schoeneck, architectural project manager.

So much has been done to improve energy efficiency that Fredrich said it will be difficult to meet a current mandate to reduce energy consumption in the city hall complex by 2012 by 15 percent, with 2005 being the starting benchmark. “Because of all the work we did in 1993, ’94 and ’95 and then up until 2005, a lot of the low-hanging fruit has been addressed,” he said. “But we are on track. We feel confident we can do that.”

The complex spans a total area of 666,446 square feet. Its energy bill for 2008 was more than $1.7 million, making energy efficiency a continuous goal.

Other initiatives include a "green roof" of sedum plants, installed in 2008 on the 809 building; using "green" cleaning products and switching cleaning duties to daytime; and requiring that materials discarded as part of remodeling projects be recycled.

Moye said a big part of the challenge is maintaining the comfort of the buildings’ hundreds of workers, while educating them on ways to support energy savings. There are 964 workers in City Hall, along with 934 people working in the adjoining Zeidler Municipal building, built in 1959, and another 301 who work in the “809 building,” a former parking garage that was converted to office space in the 1980s.

“Because we’ve made the energy upgrades, we’re able to confiscate a lot of those little space heaters that really sap a lot of energy,” said Moye. “We’re changing out old refrigerators with more efficient ones.”

“We’re meeting with the occupants on each floor to go over the energy initiative measures we want to take, and why we must do it and how these measures are allowing us to turn down the thermostat by 1 or 2 degrees and that’s a significant difference. In many cases, they’ll even come up with some ideas themselves: ‘Well, we don’t use this space much, so you can put a motion sensor here or an occupancy sensor here’ so it’s been a pretty good team effort,” said Moye.

Joana Briggs, who attended the conference on behalf of Ministerious Almas, a Christian agency, said she sees both sides of the issue. As a former city of Milwaukee employee who worked in the Zeidler Municipal Building in the 1980s, she was dismayed when her space heater was taken away.

“A group of us went out on our lunch hour and bought sweaters and long underwear – we were always freezing,” she said. “We sometimes wore mittens. You’ve got to have that sense of comfort in order to get work done.”

Now she faces another challenge. Ministerious Almas recently purchased a historic building near S. 6th St. and W. Greenfield Ave., on Milwaukee’s south side.

“As someone who is just starting this process with an old building, you have so encouraged me,” Briggs told city officials. “We don’t want to mess with the integrity of the building, but we want to make it efficient and comfortable.”

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