Building a model of efficiency: A project under way at the Wayne Aspinall Federal Building

Phil Castle, The Business Times: 

A project under way at the Wayne Aspinall Federal Building and Courthouse in downtown Grand Junction is expected to transform the 93-year-old structure into the country’s first net zero energy usage historic building. (Business Times photo by Phil Castle)

Even in the midst of the demolition, the remodeling and the other renovations under way at the Wayne Aspinall Federal Building and Courthouse in downtown Grand Junction, Jerry Burton hasn’t lost sight of the ultimate goal.

“We’re still reaching for net zero,” says Burton, assistant project manager with the U.S. General Services Administration.

If everything goes as planned, the 93-year-old building will become the first net zero energy usage building on the National Register of Historic Places. Moreover, the building 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.

Six months into a $15 million project funded with federal stimulus dollars, work remains on schedule for completion by January 2013, Burton says. What’s more, the net zero standard remains within reach.

The GSA, which manages thousands of federal properties across the country, has under taken the project at the Aspinall Building not only to refurbish that structure and make it more energy efficient, but also to demonstrate that renovation techniques and renewable energy technologies can be used to achieve the same goals in other government buildings, Burton says. Moreover, the project will serve to encourage similar efforts in privately owned buildings.

“We’re going to have a lot of people looking at it,” he says, adding the Aspinall Building could become something of a draw for environmental-related tourism.

The Beck Group, a Texas-based company with a regional office in Denver, serves as the general contractor on the project. Regional and local subcontractors are expected to handle most of the work.

The first step in the process was to create temporary space on the first floor of the three-story Aspinall Building to accommodate the federal offices and courtroom, Burton says.

Demolition followed on the second and third floors to remove interior walls. New interior walls will be installed, as will a 2-inch layer of solid foam insulation and a sprinkler system. Once renovations on the second and third floors are completed, offices and the courtroom will be relocated again so work can shift to the first floor.

New and more efficient heating and cooling systems will replace the old boiler and heating, air conditioning and ventilation systems. Outside and just to the north of the Aspinall Buildings, workers are drilling wells for a geothermal system that will use the constant temperature of the ground to heat the building in winter and cool it in summer, Burton says. Storm windows with solar control film also will reduce demand for heating and cooling.

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 grid.

More efficient fluorescent and LED bulbs and wireless controls that respond to natural lighting conditions will be installed, as will sensors that will detect whether or not work stations are occupied and require electricity, Burton says. Advance metering will monitor and control electricity use down to the individual receptacle.

Even as state-of-the-art techniques will be used to increase energy efficiency, the historic characteristics of the Aspinall Building will be retained wherever possible, Burton says. The building was constructed as a courthouse and post office in 1918, while a large addition was added in 1939.

The wooden floors will be refurbished and the original high ceilings restored. The interior doors with their frosted glass windows and mail slots will be refinished. Light fixtures will be saved, but fitted with more efficient light bulbs.

Burton, who manages other projects for the GSA, says work at the Aspinall Building is unique in that involves new technology implemented in an historic setting. But that work well could serve as a model for other buildings.

“GSA is really big on pushing innovation,” he adds. “We’re going way above and beyond on this project because we’re reaching for net zero.”