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A model of efficiency: Project to transform courthouse into net-zero energy use historic building

Aspinall Building exterior

A project is expected to transform the Wayne Aspinall Federal Building and Courthouse in downtown Grand Junction into the country’s first net zero energy usage historic building. (Business Times photo by Phil Castle)

An historic building in downtown Grand Junction will serve as a model for refitting old structures with new technologies to make them more energy efficient.

A project to renovate the 92-year-old Wayne Aspinall Federal Building and Courthouse not only will preserve the historic features of the building, but also install geothermal and solar systems that meet the energy demand there.

In fact, if everything goes as planned, the courthouse will become the first net zero energy usage building on the National Register of Historic Places. The building also will earn platinum certification under the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program, the highest level awarded for so-called “green” techniques that reduce energy use by 50 percent over standard construction.

The $15 million project, funded with federal stimulus dollars, is scheduled for completion in January 2013. Local subcontractors are expected to handle a lot of the work.

Martha Johnson, administrator of the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA), said the project will serve as a “green proving grounds” to demonstrate renovation techniques and renewable energy technologies that can be used in other government buildings across the country.

The GSA manages thousands of federal properties. “The lessons can be used across that inventory,” Johnson said.

Martha Johnson

Martha Johnson

Johnson and Susan Damour, GSA administrator for the Rocky Mountain region, were among the officials who came to Grand Junction to tour the Aspinall building and gather for a meeting to discuss the project and renewable energy.

The project will include installation of a geothermal system that will use the constant temperature of the ground to heat the building in winter and cool it in summer. A photovoltaic solar system is expected to generate enough electricity to not only meet the needs of the building, but also transfer excess electricity to the local grid.

The building will feature fluorescent lighting with wireless controls that respond to natural lighting conditions and storm windows with solar control film to reduce demand for heating and cooling.

Paul Westlake, a principal with the architectural firm designing and managing the project, said the work will have effects that ripple through the industries involved with the design and renovations of buildings. “This will be a model for thousands of buildings.”

Gregg Palmer, a business owner who serves on the Grand Junction City Council, said he’s excited a prominent building with a rich past was selected for the project. “We’re thrilled to have it happen here.”

Phil Castle is editor of the Grand Valley Business Times, a twice-monthly business journal published in Grand Junction. Castle brings to his duties nearly 30 years of experience in editorial management positions with Western Colorado newspapers. In addition, his free-lance work has appeared in a variety of publications, including the Washington Post. He holds a bachelor's degree in technical journalism from Colorado State University.
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