'Green' building raises bar

Concord's first LEED-certified government building could set a precedent for later buildings as well as save money and help improve air quality, one city official says.

The new Rider Transit Center is the first LEED-certified government building in Cabarrus County.

The building's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design is eligible for gold-level certification by the U.S. Green Building Council. It's the highest rating next to platinum.

The city of Concord owns the building but shares transit operational costs with Kannapolis. Eighty percent of the funding came from federal sources and 10 percent came from the state. The other 10 percent local match was funded by Concord to signify the city's ownership of the building. Concord Kannapolis Area Transit, known as Rider, operates out of the building.

Peter Franzese, the city of Concord's public relations manager, said no other city projects like this are in the works, but the city hopes it sets precedent for development of future facilities.

"We've raised the bar with this new building, and our intent is that this is the new trend," he said. "It's obviously doable. Maybe there are a few things that cost more along the way, but in the long run we are saving money."

Metro Charlotte is among the nation's handful of smoggiest cities because of high ozone levels, according to the American Lung Association's annual rankings. The group's 2010 "State of the Air" report ranks the Charlotte-Gastonia-Salisbury metropolitan area the 10th-highest among most ozone-polluted cities.

Projects like the transit center can help improve that ranking, because they help reduce environmental impact, said Franzese. Without more projects like this, federal dollars could be held back.

Franzese said one of Concord's core principles is protecting the environment, and a lot of city facilities have been retrofitted with energy- and money-saving upgrades.

The city recently was awarded a $638,800 Energy Efficiency Conservation Block Grant from the U.S. Department of Energy, and it is using that money throughout the city.

"We're doing things all over the place to try to be environmentally friendly," Franzese said."

The transit center building is on South Ridge Avenue near U.S. 29 and Interstate 85.

The 4,500-square-foot building looks like a conventional building, but most design aspects and building materials were included to save energy and money.

The public area features a two-story atrium with two walls of windows. This LEED feature uses passive solar energy through the use of natural light.

Its bricks are made with recycled content, and other components like the rubber and cork flooring are considered rapidly renewable resources. Regionally produced materials were used as well.

Visitors and employees will have cleaner air inside due to use of low Volatile Organic Compounds in paint, adhesives, sealants, carpet and wood products.

Variable zone heating and lighting controls help the building run more efficiently.

Stormwater management features include additional planting and landscaping, a rain garden instead of traditional settling pond and a "green" roof covered in drought-resistant plants that absorb water, minimize runoff, extend the life of roof and help keep the building cooler.

"People love the view of the windows, but they may not recognize that helps us not have as many lights on in the building, but that roof thing is really fascinating to people," said transit manager Lawrence "L.J." Weslowski Jr.

"That's the thing that captures peoples' imagination most."

Weslowski said users of the center are saying it gives the area a big-city feel.

"There's a real sense that the city is invested," he said. "We're a little more big-time than we were before this opened."

"The roof is really cool," said Franzese. "It has sort of a desert feel to it. It's colorful, it's peaceful. I call it a roof-top oasis. It's practical, too, and reduces some of the energy absorption. Instead of reflecting or wasting the energy from the sun, it keeps the plants alive."