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Green Building Gets Federal Boost

Legislation, Green News / Practices

Included in the proposed $819 billion economic stimulus package is $6 billion to help federal buildings get more energy efficient.

Washington Business Journal | February 6, 2009

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Billions more dollars injected into an emaciated construction market. Opportunities to modernize and efficiently energize federal buildings reminiscent of the Reconstruction era. A presidential pitch for creating jobs and revving up a stalled economy.

In the $819 billion federal stimulus package that passed the House of Representatives and is now before the Senate, a $6 billion chunk to help make federal buildings more energy efficient offers all of the above — plus one distinct challenge: spending that money wisely in a tight time frame.

The General Services Administration, as overseer of the proposed federal building fund, would have 60 days from the legislation’s enactment to send a detailed spending plan to the House and Senate appropriations committees — and until September 2010 to follow through with most of it.

While the GSA won’t comment on the legislation or its plans, some market insiders believe the agency is not yet close to deciding how the new money would be spent.

However, with a third of the GSA’s total square footage planted in this region, chances are that much of the cash will end up here. And that, they say, could help fuel the region’s growing green-building movement.

“We’re going to be a major beneficiary, no question about it, and I think it’s going to be a significant shot in the arm,” said Russell Perry, a vice president and managing director for the D.C. office for SmithGroup, a Detroit-based architecture and engineering company. “This is all kind of ‘Brave New World’ stuff. No one has done anything in real estate on this type of scale. There’s no question it’s a game-changer. How it changes the game is what we’re trying to anticipate.”

Already, the GSA is overseeing $4 billion worth of design and construction projects in the area, where it owns 187 buildings and manages 96 million square feet, nearly 30 percent of the national total.

While federal energy managers have estimated a need for $6 billion to $10 billion in total energy investments, the GSA has requested an additional $4.6 billion for primarily modernization through 2014.

The National Capital Planning Commission strongly endorsed $2.7 billion for 20 projects, including overhauls of the Commerce Department’s 69-year-old Herbert Hoover Building, 73-year-old Interior Department building and 92-year-old GSA National Office Building.

GSA is “such a tremendous user in this marketplace that where they want to go, people will follow,” said Mark Benedetti, vice president for property management at Blake Real Estate.

Some suspect the stimulus bill’s emphasis on mass-producing new jobs may top the goal of plugging the largest energy holes.

“There may be more projects going in that are more shovel-ready,” said James Wood, a principal at D.C.’s Perkins and Will architecture company. “We may not be getting the best sustainable projects off the drawing board. It may be what can get done fast.”

GSA also is operating under its own clock for energy savings. Starting in 2010, it will require nearly all agencies to sign leases only in buildings that have an Energy Star rating of at least 75, which has property managers complaining about electricity-hogging tenants that will get in the way of those goals. Some predict those worries, combined with a big new pot of money that has strings attached, will be a lot for GSA to coordinate.

“They have all this money and all these mandates, but the GSA has to figure out how these apply to many categories of buildings it has in its portfolio,” said William Hendrix, a Perkins and Will principal. “They’re trying to become more nimble, and that’s a tough thing to do.”

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