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LEED Silver Building Stands as Beacon of Hope for Agency with Long Legacy of Fighting Poverty: Interview with Larry Eyre

Larry Eyre Kitsap Community Resources (KCR) achieved a long-held dream in 2007 when it opened the Bremerton Community Services Center (CSC). Since its founding in 1965 as part of the War on Poverty, this was the first time KCR was operating out of a building it had designed and constructed. It was also the first building to achieve LEED Certification in Bremerton. As KCR’s Executive Director, can you share with our readers why your agency was willing to invest time, energy, and money in a green building? EYRE: It goes back to our mission, which is "providing hope and opportunity for low-income Kitsap County residents with resources that develop self-sufficiency." Since 1965, when our agency was created as part of the War on Poverty effort, we have been providing services to low-income individuals and families. Our goal is not just to provide emergency assistance, but to put our clients on the path to financial independence. The services we are now providing from the Bremerton CSC had been provided in four scattered rental locations. It seems fitting that we have built our own building, and that this building is built sustainably. We are so much better off financially.

It's got to be better owning rather than renting. How about savings directly related to the new green building features? It's fair to say we are saving about 40% a year on utilities with the new scenario. And this is with 10% more square footage than we had when we were renting four buildings.

Any other reasons for building green? Well the other half of our mission is providing "hope". Having a new LEED Silver building in downtown Bremerton is a very visible symbol of hope. We feel it has contributed to the revitalization of the Bremerton's downtown. And because the LEED concept was still novel in our area, we were able to obtain funding as a "pilot" — this helped with the cost of documentation and certification. The project has brought the organization additional recognition. We won the Kitsap County 2008 Earth Day Award, and enjoyed good press about the project.

Any particular challenges with the project? Well it's hard to believe now, but construction was booming at the time, and the cost of construction was escalating tremendously — up 20% during the year of construction. So we had a budget gap. Our funding partners, including Senator Patty Murray, came through for us, though, and we were able to complete the project. The project's goals were considered significant enough for this boost, and we appreciate that.

_R6I0411 Are you happy with the building? We are delighted with it. Of course we're in a building designed for the services we provide, so it is much more functional. But the green emphasis on natural light, operable windows, and low VOC finishes, is making for a much better and healthier working environment. We're also really proud of the fact that we were able to purchase la high proportion of local materials for both building and furnishings. We're lucky to have Watson Furniture here, their manufacturing process is very green and they supplied all our furniture. Our plantings are local too, which saves us on watering and upkeep.

Looking ahead now, we're working with you on a new project that combines a community services center with eight units of affordable housing: What lessons are you hoping to apply here? Well we feel that the Bremerton building turned out pretty well. But we are more experienced. And the conditions are different. In this case we have a more natural, less urban site. We're going to take advantage of the fact that there are trees and we're going to look at on-site rainwater collection. There were a couple of things we didn't do on the Bremerton building we'd like to look at again here. In that building we ended up with a less advanced HVAC system than originally designed; a clerestory with operable windows was also value engineered out. It would be nice to see how those items would work in the new community services center. And we'd like to find a better-wearing low-VOC paint. The one we used isn't doing as well as we'd hoped. Even so, there was a lot we like about our Bremerton building and we plan to reproduce most of that in this new building.

  Kcrlogo color large    Based on your experience, what would you tell other community action agencies considering  capital improvement projects? I would certainly suggest they give serious consideration to sustainability early on. At this point (in Washington), if you are using state funds, you will be expected to certify your project with a LEED-Silver rating. To be successful you need to build in sustainable features as a practical matter. It's worth the extra effort because your clients, your employees (often former clients) will appreciate the investment you are making on their behalf. We have found it is more attractive for funders, also, so make sure it's part of the story you tell. With our Bremerton building, we used the project's sustainability goals to mandate no smoking on the premises, rather than just meeting the rule of law (25 ft. from entrance). Because of the extra hassle, several employees have quit. This is just one example of a positive outcome we can share with potential funders.

Also look for green features that have funding attached to them, such as alternative energy. This can help cover first cost premiums. Frankly, the more commonly these features are used, the lower the relative cost is going to be. Long term savings can also justify some expenditure. For a community service organization, it isn't just about the money, although it can certainly feel that way when dealing with the budget. For our part, it is very important that we are doing our part for the larger community by doing the right thing, and owning and operating sustainable facilities is a part of that.

Larry Eyre has served as Executive Director of Kitsap Community Resources (KCR) since 1979. KCR administers programs and services to meet the specific needs of Kitsap County’s low-income populations. KCR currently employs approximately 180 full-time employees and 80 part-time employees and is one of 31 Community Action Agencies in the state of Washington. Kathleen O'Brien, President of O'Brien & Company, and Editor of Building Capacity Blog conducted this interview. O'Brien & Company acted as the sustainability consultant on the Bremerton Community Services Center, which was designed by Rice Fergus Miller Architecture and Planning, and constructed by the Rafn Company.

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