Four years ago, Haywood Community College launched the first low-impact development program in North Carolina, a new degree to train students in sustainable development and design.
With her hands fluttering like a hummingbird, Dana Claire loops skeins of colored yarn around a large pegboard.
Claire has been interested in fiber crafts her entire life and now, in her retirement years, has she decided to pursue her true passion of working with her hands by going back to school. Offering a nationally recognized professional crafts program, she found herself at Haywood Community College in Clyde. This semester, she’s learning and engaging in the new Creative Arts facility constructed on campus.
The Sylva town board has trimmed the green energy features from its new police department project and boosted the proposed cost to more than $1 million.
The town originally budgeted $786,500 for the construction. The lowest bid, however, came in nearly $100,000 higher, forcing the town to decided whether to downsize the project or increase the amount of it’s willing to spend.
The Town of Sylva, in a quiet way, is busy setting a green example for its Western North Carolina neighbors.
First the fire department, and now the new police department, incorporate green, environmentally friendly components. Sylva’s police soon will take over the former library building on Main Street now that the library has moved to a new home on the hill alongside the historic courthouse.
There are a couple of common denominators in these two municipal green projects: town leaders who support these sorts of efforts and Sylva architect Odell Thompson.
“If you can tap into that, you should,” Thompson said. “We do want to do the right thing.”
Police Chief Davis Woodard is a convert, too, adding it’s important “to go as green as possible.”
Green strategies packaged with renovations to the old library include solar cells to augment the electrical system and a solar setup to heat water for showers. Solar tubes, a form of sky lights, will provide additional natural lighting. Some of the retrofitting includes adding insulation along the brick walls inside the old library.
Town council members last week approved $786,500 to fund the renovation. Interim Town Manager Mike Morgan said he believes the project will be ready to go out for bid next month.
The green elements are provided as alternatives in the bidding package, Thompson said.
“Up until the last possible second we can accept them or not,” he said.
If the cost comes in higher than the town wants to pay, it can opt to include the green features or trim them down.
The town’s new firehouse was completed a couple of years ago.
There are photovoltaic solar cells to convert the sun into electricity. To save on heating costs, hot water warmed by the sun’s rays flow through coils beneath the concrete slab in the garage bays where the trucks are parked, a form of passive, radiant heating. The slab retains heat because it has thermal mass, which helps keep temperatures warmer.
Up to eight sky lights, known these days as solar tubes, to bring in natural daylight. The building is south facing, and there’s an overhang to prevent heat buildup in summer and accept heat during the winter.
The men’s room has a waterless urinal to save on water use. Plus the building avoided the use of volatile organic compounds in the paints or carpet.
Plans also call for a new look for the library façade on Sylva’s Main Street. The outside of the former public library is dated, even to the casual observer.
“Our goal is to make it look like a municipal building in a good sense,” Thompson said. “Secure, welcoming — not dated. This, now, is 1970s. We want something that is timeless.”
Architectural features from Sylva’s oldest building, the C.J. Harris building on Main Street that now houses Jackson General Store, provided ideas. The architect termed the creative borrowing as a way of “paying homage” to Sylva’s historic past. This includes a portico entrance, which as it sounds is a porch of sorts leading into the building, plus simplification of the roof canopy.
Inside, the police department will have women and men’s locker rooms, office space and a secure area for keeping evidence critical in criminal cases.
Outside and inside will be updated and modernized, Thompson said, adding that Chief Woodard brought a self-created lay-out for the interior space that worked with just some tweaking. Woodard said he collected ideas from visiting law enforcement facilities in Franklin, Maggie Valley and in Clay County. Plus, he said, his officers had ideas about what would make for an efficient workplace in the 6,400-square-foot building
For now, the 15-member town police, counting only fulltime employees, will continue to squeeze into the current police department on Allen Street next to town hall. The officers share just 1,000 square feet.
“We’ve been in that box too long,” Davis said.
Jackson County owned the old library building, but agreed to a property swap with the town last year. The county gave Sylva the old library building, and in exchange the town gave the county the former chamber of commerce building on Grindstaff Cove Road.
No jail cells will be built in the future police department. As takes place now, any prisoners detained by police will be taken to the county jail at the administration building.
Architect and engineering: $36,000
Site work: $40,900
Fixtures, furnishings and equipment: $76,800
Haywood Community College has hit a nearly $227,000 roadblock during the construction of it new creative arts building.
The $10.2 million building — a controversial project to begin with — will tap into contingency funds for the project to pay for previously unforeseen gaps in the architect’s plans. Contingency money is built into the price tag at the beginning of a project in case added costs arise.
“The reason you have a contingency is in case something crazy happens. That is the whole point,” said Bill Dechant, director of campus development. Dechant was hired recently as an in-house architect, a common position at state universities with nearly constant construction project but a somewhat new trends at the community college level.
The $226,901 expenditure will pay for the purchase of a new water pump and an outdoor shed to house the mechanism.
It became apparent in July that a pump would be needed to create sufficient water pressure for the building’s sprinkler system.
The architect firm hired to design the building had their engineers test the pressure in water lines on campus during the planning phase. The problem, however, is the pressure was tested down the hill from where the new building is located, Dechant said.
As water flows up the hill to the new building, it loses pressure, a fact the architect did not factor into his plans, Dechant said.
“Anyone who works in the mountains know if you take water pressure (at the bottom of the hill) and it has to go uphill several hundred feet, it is not going to be the same,” Dechant said.
Dechant explained the problem to county commissioners at their meeting this week, as county commissioners ultimately would have to sign off a change order to tap into the contingency funds.
Commissioner Kevin Ensley agreed that Raleigh-based architect Mike Nicklas should have taken the hillside position of the building into account.
“It is just common,” Ensley said. “It is always good to have an architect that is familiar with mountain construction.”
If the problem is not fixed, the building cannot open. All structures are required to have functioning sprinkler systems.
“Time is of the essence,” Dechant said. “This change order really needs to move.”
Even if the problem had been included in the project’s blueprints originally, the county would end up paying a similar amount for the pump at the beginning rather than on the backend.
Commissioners queried how the current added cost was tabulated.
The general contractor submitted five proposals before a price was settled on.
“We have been through several iterations of this design,” Dechant said.
The college negotiated a $100,000 decrease from what the contractor originally sought.
“We have about massaged this as much as we can,” Dechant said. “It is about as economical as we think we can do.”
Commissioners approved the change order but questioned how the oversight could have happened.
“Why wasn’t this done at such time the design would have accommodated this?” inquired Mark Swanger, chair of the county commissioners.
“That’s my question,” chimed in Commissioner Bill Upton.
The community college is currently trying to find out how such a costly slip-up occurred.
“We are in the process of trying to figure out who really drop the ball,” Dechant said. “The college feels like we are not responsible for that, that this is a design error. We are going through the correct procedures to solve that and figure out where responsibility lies.”
At the end of the job if there is evidence that the architect was negligent, Dechant said, the college would negotiate that at the end of the contract.
What is the outside architect saying about the bungle, asked Commissioner Mike Sorrells.
In the architect’s defense, he thought that a campus-wide water improvement project carried out last year would remedy any water pressure issue the the creative arts building might have, Dechant said.
Both the college and the architect plan to submit summary statements — their own version of events — to the state construction office.
Prior to the snafu, the college had a contingency budget of more $600,000. If the project changes are approved, the budget will drop to $365,198.
Dechant could not promise the commissioners that this would be the last of the change orders.
“I am sure there will be small change orders that come along. There always are,” he said. “I don’t think there will be any more change orders of the significance we are talking about. That said, I would never stand up here and guarantee anything.”
For community colleges, approving change orders can be a lengthy process. First, the project managers must get approval from the college’s Board of Trustees before presenting the issue to the county commissioners. The last step is to apply to the state construction office for permission to change a project’s costs and parameters.
Dechant said he did not know how the county or college would spend any remaining contingency funds if they go unused.
In addition to the cost of the water pump itself, the college may end up shelling out more funds in overhead costs to the contractor, who said construction will be delayed because of the error. If the contractor can prove that the change order held up construction, then HCC will pay more than $1,000 for each day that the construction schedule extended beyond what the workers were require to do.
The commissioners and college administrators battled for months about the scope of the creative arts building project. Commissioners insisted that the college slash the price of its plans, while administrators argued that the building construction and amenities had been whittled down enough already. The new facility will house studio and classroom space for students studying the creative arts, such as pottery and woodwork.
Both groups eventually settled on the current $10.2 million cost. Money to pay for the new building is coming from a quarter-cent sales tax approved by county voters more than four years ago to fund improvements to Haywood Community College’s campus.
“This is the biggest project we’ve ever undertaken at Haywood Community College,” Dechant said. Construction of the building, which is still expected to conclude in early May, is about halfway complete.
The building will feature a number of green initiatives, including rainwater harvesting, solar thermal energy and Energy Star photocopiers.
Go into any store and you run into the term “green.” Bags of chips, detergents, new cars and fluorescent-light bulbs — all are bedizened in alleged greenness.
But what, exactly, does green mean? And who should get to declare themselves green? Should low-flow toilets get the same credit as solar panels?
In the building industry, the question isn’t academic — it’s critical to the bottom line. Green buildings and homes command a higher price tag. But the cost of true, environmentally friendly building is also steep. So how green is green?
That’s where LEED comes in. LEED, which stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, is a third-party green-building rating system that certifies buildings based on their merits as environmentally sustainable structures.
There are various incarnations of LEED — LEED for homes, for existing buildings, for retail, for health care, for commercial interiors — and different levels within each: certified (basic level), silver, gold and platinum, and the ranks are handed out based on points in five categories.
LEED is fairly customizable from building to building; which is a plus, given that what might be a massive, energy-saving measure in one structure would create trivial benefits to another. Builders can pick which categories they want more points in, and then which measures and materials they want to use to get them.
But it’s costly. The price of LEED-style building over traditional methods is about 2 percent, said Scott Donald of Padgett and Freeman Architects in Asheville. About a quarter of Donald’s business is in LEED projects.
Fees vary, depending on size and which LEED program is giving the award, but for a large commercial building, a construction and design review can run as high as $27,000. And when it comes down to the bottom line, sometimes the merits of being certified don’t outweigh the costs — especially when all the environmental elements can be built in without certification. So property owners who might have come in liking the ranking may opt to sidestep it, building a LEED building without the LEED name.
“It actually occurs a lot,” said Donald, “because they don’t want to pay for the actual certification and the energy models, and the design is pretty much the same.”
That fee? It pays for extensive documentation. And in return, LEED provides an outsider arbiter, making sure everything is done properly.
“That’s where you lose by not doing LEED is during the construction process,” said Donald. “The end product is very similar, but the process is not at all. That’s part of what LEED does.”
But the real treasure that LEED has to offer is its name — a recognized brand of environmental friendliness.
“The value of a certification comes in when you’re trying to sell a building. That’s where that brand comes in,” said Maggie Leslie, the program director for the Western North Carolina Green Building Council, which helps builders navigate the LEED process.
“For someone who’s trying to sell a home or a building, instead of trying to explain all the terms, it’s a marketing program. It’s to help people communicate the value of these things.”
George Ford, an assistant professor at Western Carolina University, teaches construction management. Recently, he’s been teaching a lot more about LEED. From the contractor’s perspective, the view is the same as from the owner’s; knowing green-building practices isn’t the same as knowing LEED building practices.
“A lot of times, that could be the difference between them getting the job and not getting the job,” said Ford.
Because of that, the professor has seen an increase in LEED certifications over the last several years.
In a tough construction industry, any edge is a good edge, especially if it offers true legitimacy in a quagmire of faux green.
And, for a quick bit of history, that’s why it was created.
“LEED has been around for 10 years, and it was created out of a response and a cry from the building community saying, ‘We want to stand out. There is no standard, and how do we separate ourselves from anyone else who says that they’re green?’” said Emily Scofield. She’s the executive director for the Charlotte region chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council, the third party in third-party ratings system. They’re the ones that give out LEED badges.
Scofield views LEED as less a selling point and more as a mark of quality. She said the benefits of adhering to the system’s high standards are self-evident and good for health, the earth and the bottom line.
A 2010 McGraw Hill study found that, for new buildings built to LEED standards, operating costs dropped by just over 13 percent — eight for existing buildings that were retrofitted — while the value of new LEED buildings rose nearly 11 percent, compared to what it would’ve brought traditionally.
That’s part of why Donald is so successful in convincing his clients to go for sustainably designed buildings, whether they get the LEED stamp or not.
“If you meet the goals that LEED establishes, you’re going to save a lot of money,” said Donald, pointing to one of his recent projects, the new Cherokee Central Schools complex, as an example.
“Right now, they’re probably saving over a quarter of a million dollars a year,” said Donald, and he projected that the tribe would save $10 million over the life of the buildings.
And that, of course, is the basic premise of good branding. LEED isn’t just a name. It’s a symbol of quality and a promise that green really does mean green. People know and trust it, and that’s got a good deal of intrinsic value.
But they’re not the only player in the game. There are more green ratings systems out there. Some, like Energy Star, work in concert with LEED; some are in competition with it.
Different programs have their own merits, including, for many, lower fees. But in this relatively young market, LEED is still the front-runner, the internationally recognized standard that serves as the benchmark.
“I think that competition is good, and ultimately we’re all trying to achieve the same goal,” said Scofield. “If their intent is true, we don’t mind the competition.”
And really, LEED will have to keep evolving, not only to stay ahead of the competition, but to stay in business altogether. The general consensus among architects and builders alike is that the standards that are LEED today will simply be the building code tomorrow, rendering LEED and its ilk obsolete, at least in their current forms.
Today, new technologies like solar power and geothermal wells are becoming the next wave of green trends, but in five years time, the leading edge of the green movement will be somewhere else entirely, which will always leave LEED, and the professionals who follow it, somewhere greener to grow.
What do Harrill Residence Hall at Western Carolina University, the Cherokee Central School System, the new Oconaluftee Visitor Center in the Smokies and the firehouse in Sylva have in common?
Each of these projects help make a whole: they are part of a burgeoning green-building trend in Western North Carolina that, in recent years, has seen sustainable commercial construction become less of a niche and more of the norm.
“It is definitely becoming mainstream,” said Lauren Bishop, campus energy manager for WCU, where a green retrofitting of Harrill dorm is under way and the earth friendly Health and Human Sciences Building was recently completed.
These green buildings use less power and water, are often built in a pre-existing footprint, produce less waste and use recycled materials. Most incorporate more natural light and fresh air than standard commercial buildings.
Some are certified sustainable, others are not: LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification is the recognized standard (see sidebar on LEED certification). But that stamp of approval comes at a recurring annual cost and a whole lot of paperwork.
SEE ALSO: The price of being certifiably ‘green’
As George Stanley, projects manager for Southwestern Community College, put it when describing the non-certified but sustainable Conrad G. Burrell administration/bookstore building under way there, one can have a perfectly fantastic pedigree dog without having in hand the actual pedigree papers.
With or without the certification, WNC architects and local governments are paying increasing attention to sustainable building practices.
Scott Donald is a principal architect with Padgett and Freeman Architects. The Asheville company drafted the plans for the massive new campus that’s home to Cherokee Central Schools, as well as the tribal emergency operations center. Both are LEED certified, but Donald said that he would try to bring environmental sustainability to the projects even without the certification, just because it’s his professional habit.
“This office has been doing that since the early 70s,” Donald said. “It’s really just environmentally conscious architecture.”
The schools in particular are chockablock with sustainable measures. It’s a sprawling, 473,000-square-foot campus that houses kindergarten through high school and incorporates green technology at every turn. There are waterless urinals, daylight sensors in every room to maximize natural light and minimize the artificial light used, underground cisterns stowed beneath the schools’ courtyards that can hold 60,000 gallons of rainwater for irrigation and toilet flushing. And, the school is heated by 450-foot geothermal wells that were drilled beneath the school to make use of the earth’s warmth.
The project cost $140 million, but Yona Wade, director of the school’s cultural arts center, said the benefits are worth the extra money spent to LEED certify the buildings. The measures will save the school system money in the long term — $10 million over 40 years, according to Donald.
In Cherokee, the impetus for green building is largely rooted in a 2009 environmental proclamation made by Principal Chief Michell Hicks. He directed the tribe toward greater care for the environment in its policies.
“It comes from wanting to be good stewards of what we have,” Wade said. “This has got to be the building that will last us. We’ll probably never do this again.”
O’Dell Thompson, a Sylva architect, has chosen not to take the classes and pay the fees necessary to get LEED certified. But he designs in an environmentally friendly manner “because that’s the right thing to do.”
“I do a lot of houses, churches and stuff,” Thompson said. “With all of my clients, I encourage them to take advantage of the things that are free — the sun and the wind.”
Thompson was the architect on Sylva’s new firehouse.
He remembers that when Sylva leaders were developing the concept for the new firehouse, then Mayor Brenda Oliver emphasized, “no matter what, it should be as environmentally sensitive as possible,” Thompson said. “So that was one of our goals from the outset.”
Last fall, the firehouse was completed. Not too many years ago the obviously sustainable building might have seemed incongruous in this mountain town of just 2,500, with its large solar panels displayed prominently on the roof. But these days? It really hasn’t occasioned much comment.
There is a solar pre-heating hot water system that heats water to circulate under the slabs where the fire trucks rest when not in use. This saves propane costs — you can’t let a fire truck, full of potentially lifesaving water, freeze during the winter. The slab retains heat because it has thermal mass, which helps keep temperatures warmer.
Up to eight solar tubes help with lighting the firehouse. So much so, Thompson said a butterfly baffle had to be installed near the television so that the firemen could see the screen. The building is south facing, and there’s an overhang to prevent heat buildup in summer and accept heat during the winter.
There are photovoltaics, which is a method of generating power by converting solar radiation into direct current electricity. There are no batteries being charged, the electricity generated simply offsets any electric costs.
The firehouse is metal, meaning parts of it were probably recycled; the men’s room has a waterless urinal to save on water use.
The building avoids the use of volatile organic compounds in the paints or carpet.
“It’s not just green,” Thompson said. “It’s an environmentally healthy structure.”
Tim Chapman is the associate director for facilities in the office of residential living at WCU. He’s a practical kind of fellow, one who clearly understands and appreciates the virtue and necessity of the bottom line.
“We’re a business,” Chapman said. “Everything we do must be done in sound business terms.”
Each of the 13 buildings he helps oversee is an individual “cost center,” meaning they have to cost out each year, bringing in enough money to offset expenses. But these days, that doesn’t exclude incorporating green practices — in fact, sustainable building techniques can save you money, Chapman said.
“The desire has been there for years, but the manufacturing process and science (of green building) is catching up,” he said.
WCU has reused sites instead of eating up more green space as it has entered a new building phase in recent years. More green space, in fact, has been added on campus.
There also have been such innovations as a central chilling plant to cool the buildings on the campus quad instead of separate units, and on-demand hot water heaters.
And Harrill dorm, a 38-year-old residence hall being upgraded and improved, will be the ultimate sustainable “showpiece” on campus, Chapman said.
Work has started on the 400-bed dorm, which should be completed by next summer. The $15 million project will include extensive upgrades to outdated heating, ventilation, air conditioning, electrical and plumbing systems.
Plans call for the installation of a rooftop rainwater collection system to provide water for flushing toilets, solar panels to supplement water heating and geothermal wells for heating and cooling.
WCU Architect Galen May said the new dorm will also allow students to be highly energy conscious. An energy monitor will be added to each pair of floors that will allow students to monitor their energy consumption.
A dashboard will be in the lobby so that all residents can view energy consumption throughout the entire dorm.
“It’s our responsibility to set a good example, and to teach our students about this aspect,” Bishop, the campus energy manager, said.
May said Harrill would serve as a learning tool for students. And, perhaps, it will serve as one for the region, too.
By Quintin Ellison and Colby Dunn
• Cherokee Emergency Operations Center, Cherokee
• Ravensford School Project, Cherokee Central Schools
• Registered (in process of LEED certification)
• One single-family home in Bryson City
• Oconaluftee Visitor’s Center – Cherokee
• Haywood Community College, Creative Arts Building – Clyde
• Two single family homes in Franklin
• Unitarian Universalist Fellowship – Franklin
• Best Buy – Waynesville
• One single-family home – Sylva
• Cherokee Operations Center – Whittier
• Harrill Hall renovations – WCU
• WCU Health and Gerontological Building – Cullowhee
Source: U.S. Green Building Council
If someone said the word “hemp,” the first thing to spring to mind probably wouldn’t be home construction. But if you’re looking for a strong, green, energy-efficient building material that’s resistant to pretty much everything, hemp might be your best choice.
This is the concept being pitched by Greg Flavall and David Madera, owners of an Asheville-based business called Hemp Technologies. They’re some of the first to build with the material in the United States, where industrial hemp hasn’t seen the rise in popularity it enjoys in other countries, thanks to a federal ban on U.S. production.
Its recognition is slowly ramping up, though, due in part to its benefits over standard concrete. The third house in the country to be built with the technology is going up now, in the mountains above Lake Junaluska.
Roger Teuscher, the homeowner, said he was turned on to the idea by his first architect, who suggested the plant as a cleaner, greener alternative to standard homebuilding supplies. Tuescher, who lives most of the year in Florida, said he was drawn not only to the cost savings gained by increased insulation, but by the product’s recyclability.
“The whole house can be recycled,” said Teuscher. “The house itself you can take down, grind it up and put it back into another house.”
And that’s a far cry from standard concrete homes. But Flavall, whose company is providing the hemp for Teuscher’s home, said that with hemp-built homes, it’s unlikely that he’d ever need to do that. While standard American homes have a shelf life of about 80 years, hemp-made homes will last much longer. The oldest known hemp structure, said Flavall, is a Japanese building that’s been standing for just more than three centuries.
For most customers, though, the real selling points are the product’s environmental friendliness and energy efficiency.
Because the hemp is mixed with lime to create the hempcrete that makes up walls, floors and ceilings, it is actually carbon negative – meaning it takes carbon from the air and locks it up into the fabric of the building. In the simplest terms, lime needs carbon to continue existing and hemp is a breathable substance, so hemp buildings will suck significant amounts of carbon from the air during the building process and will continue to breathe for the life of the structure.
Flavall said that this, combined with high levels of resistance to things like fire, mold, termites and other insects and the plant’s extreme capacity for insulation, make it the ideal building material.
Flavall, a Canadian-educated New Zealand native, said he and partner Maderan stumbled across the glories of industrial hemp four years ago, while on a quest for sustainable materials. Now, he’s practically an evangelist for the plant and its benefits.
“It’s a miracle plant,” said Flavall. “In Canada they grow it as a break crop [to relieve the soil between crops] and they are getting a 27 percent increased yield after the hemp crop, because industrial hemp puts nitrogen back into the soil.”
And it’s true that industrial hemp has a variety of uses, both in and out of the ground for things beyond just building.
But industrial hemp in the U.S. isn’t all sweetness and light. It is around 10 to 15 percent more expensive to build a house out of hemp than via traditional methods. The price hike is thanks to all that pesky importing; although 16 states have granted permission for the growth of industrial hemp, the federal government still has a ban on bringing in the seeds to get the crop going.
For the sake of clarity, it begs explaining that industrial hemp isn’t the same as that other, more mind-bending variety of hemp that has garnered a bad reputation and a Schedule I Controlled Substance label from the Drug Enforcement Agency. It’s a biological cousin of that plant, but is missing the key ingredient — THC — which is the chemical that causes a high.
Flavall said that it was really lobbying in the early 20th century that kept industrial hemp out of American farms, and he is now doing his own lobbying to get those federal laws changed. He sees hemp as a potential boon to the nation’s economy, especially in areas such as Western North Carolina, where the money once raked in by tobacco has long since begun to dry up.
“It’s easier to get a license to grow medical marijuana than it is to grow industrial hemp,” said Flavall. “But there’s enough pressure now with thousands of people around the nation advocating for famers to be able to grow. America imported $350 million of industrial hemp product (last year).”
Another downside to the product is time; the process is more time-consuming, takes longer to mix and longer to apply, said Vinny Cioffi, the Waynesville contractor in charge of building Teuscher’s new home.
“It was a little more labor intensive and it’s a little more expensive,” said Cioffi. “But I hope it catches on because it’s more energy efficient and because of all the other benefits of it.”
And Flavall thinks it’s really only a matter of time before that happens. The technology has been widely used across Asia and Europe for several decades to fairly wide approval, thanks to the cost-savings it’s introduced. In the United Kingdom, the Adnams Brewery was able to build a large distribution center without an air conditioning system because the hempcrete was insulation enough to cool the stored beer, and it saved the company £400,000, just more than $640,000.
Meanwhile, Flavall and his company will stick to importing, trusting that the benefits to the environment and the wallet will continue to bring them clients eager to claim those benefits for themselves.
By DeeAnna Haney • SMN Intern
Perched atop a Canton nursing home roof, gleaming in the sun is the newest addition to the building, bringing it to the forefront of the green initiative in North Carolina.
Silver Bluff Village held a ribbon-cutting ceremony last week to celebrate the installation of a new solar energy system. It is the first nursing facility in the state to harness the sun for the building’s hot water needs.
Provided by SolTherm, a clean energy services firm based in Asheville, the 32 4-by-10 foot panels will provide up to 50 percent of the facility’s hot water consumption including bathing, cooking and other dietary requirements.
When SolTherm first approached Silver Bluff owners Bob and Lisa Leatherwood about how a solar energy project could benefit the 195-bed nursing home, the couple had already committed to reducing energy usage by replacing their plumbing fixtures, all light bulbs and upgrading their wastewater treatment facility.
The idea of using alternative water heating sources had crossed their minds during this building transformation two years ago, but they were sure the project would be far too expensive.
But SolTherm’s research results on the building quickly changed the couple’s minds. The company found that a solar hot water energy system would reduce the nursing home’s energy costs by 10 percent immediately, saving them an estimated $315,000 over 20 years if they participated in the NoCapEx program. (This number is assuming propane prices continue to increase at six percent each year).
Bob Leatherwood said he first thought it was too good to be true. With NoCapEx, the company promised to front the solar panel equipment and installation with no upfront cost to Silver Bluff. In return, the Leatherwoods were asked to sign a 20-year contract and pay a monthly fee.
After SolTherm’s proposal, Lisa Leatherwood said the decision to install was a “no-brainer.” “All we had to do was provide the building,” she said.
The Heliodyne solar panels capture the sun’s thermal energy by heated fluids in the solar collectors and then send it to heat exchangers. The solar heated water is then stored in a 2,000-gallon tank and can be used throughout the day.
According to SolTherm’s Web site, SolTherm.com, traditional hot water heaters waste as much as 35 percent fossil fuels. The solar panels work to reduce the use of a hot water heater thus saving money and environmental impact.
“This is something we would encourage anybody to look at and we’re very excited and glad to be an example in the community,” Bob Leatherwood said at the ceremony.
Lisa Leatherwood said she is pleased with the results of the solar panels already. The online monitoring system inside the building that tracks the system’s progress reads the facility has saved 225 trees, 221 gallons of gas and 6,746 vehicle miles to date.
“We’re proud to reduce our carbon footprint, create jobs and of course save money,” she said.
After months of debate, Haywood Community College leaders emerged victorious this week in their quest to build a $10.3 million building where craft industries will be taught.
From weaving to pottery to woodworking, the new building will be a showcase for the college and a centerpiece for the vibrant arts and crafts community in Western North Carolina.
Haywood County commissioners had final say on whether the college could move forward, but for months they have been playing hardball over the building’s price tag. Ultimately, the commissioners approved the building Monday in a 4 to 1 vote.
Commissioner Kevin Ensley was the lone dissenting vote, but the other commissioners made it clear their support was tempered.
HCC President Rose Johnson said she is thankful the commissioners approved the project and the college can move forward with construction. The process was far more controversial than Johnson likely anticipated, however. A new craft building had long been the college’s top construction priority — since before Johnson became president.
“There was no way I could foresee how complicated it was going to be,” Johnson said.
Ultimately what convinced commissioners was unanimous backing by the college board of trustees itself. Until recently, the college trustees had been split on various aspects of the project, from the total building price tag to solar energy features. But last week, on the eve of a final vote by the county, the trustees convened and unanimously endorsed the project.
“They wanted to go to the commissioners with a unified vote,” Johnson said.
Mark Bumgarner, chairman of the HCC board, admits the move was critical. Commissioners said as much as well.
“If you had come in here today and it was still a 6-5 decision, I would be uncomfortable that you didn’t have a stronger consensus,” said Commissioner Chairman Kirk Kirkpatrick. “I don’t want to be in the position as a commissioner to stop a project another board wants to go forward with. If they are all in consensus now with the project, I would feel comfortable approving it, but not because I am sold on it completely.”
“Now that you have a consensus I feel a lot better,” agreed Commissioner Bill Upton.
The college has trimmed nearly $1 million from the project over the past month. Unfortunately, it doesn’t bring the price tag any lower than before. Bids from contractors came in higher than architects had estimated, forcing the college to cut elements of the building just to hold the line on the cost.
The higher-than-expected estimates came as a shock to both the college and commissioners. The depressed economy has, in most cases, led to lower building costs as contractors compete for limited work.
“This is the first project I have heard of in two or three years that came in above the estimated cost,” Ensley said.
Ensley said the reason the college had such high bids was the cutting-edge nature of the design. Ensley said he heard from contractors who either didn’t bid at all or who bid high because some eco-components of the building were unfamiliar.
Commissioners didn’t pass up one last chance to lecture college leaders over the price tag before signing off on the project. The building will be paid for out of a special quarter-cent sales tax approved by county voters two years ago. The county had pledged to dedicate revenue from the quarter-cent sales tax to community college construction if voters would approve it.
But Commissioner Skeeter Curtis said the county is ultimately on the hook for the loan.
“If something happened to the sales tax and it went south, that means the county would have to pick it up,” Curtis said. Curtis said the county doesn’t want to have to raise taxes in the future due to poor financial planning today.
Swanger warned the college not to bank on the special pot of sales tax money as being their own forever.
“I think it is important that all of us go into this with our eyes wide open,” Swanger said.
A decade from now, there will be a different cast of characters, with different priorities and campaign pledges than today’s board, Swanger said. While today’s commissioners pledged to devote the special sales tax to the college, it could easily be co-opted by a future board for a different use, he said.
It makes it all the more critical that the college be certain they want to burn through the lion’s share of the money on this one building, Swanger said.
Commissioners told the college not to come back later asking for more money for other projects.
“You know the lack of funds we have for projects for the community college outside this pool of money,” Kirkpatrick said.
When the recession hit, the county cut the building maintenance budget for the college by two-thirds. Commissioners said it could be a long time before that maintenance budget is restored. That means the college may need to dip into the special pot of sales tax money for regular maintenance.
When commissioners first broached that possibility earlier this year, supporters of the college came out in force to protest what they saw as commissioners reneging on their earlier promise to devote the sales tax money to campus expansion and new construction.
But times are tough, Ensley said.