Solar panels, wind turbines, geothermal wells, rain cisterns and composting toilets – you don’t often see those all in one building, if you see them at all. But these are central to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s Brock Environmental Center, which was recently dedicated in Virginia Beach, Va.
After three years spent planning, designing and building this facility, it was great to see local residents exploring what is possible with green building during the open house. The Brock center is targeting not only LEED Platinum certification, but also the even more stringent Living Building Challenge that requires net zero environmental impact. Some of those residents seemed to be in awe of what was accomplished by this team, which includes not only CBF and Skanska (as CBF’s representative) as key team members, but also SmithGroupJJR, Hourigan Construction and WPL Site Design.
I’m still a bit in awe myself as to what this great team achieved: an international model for energy and water efficiency and climate change resiliency, and Virginia’s greenest building. The team reached these tough goals because of open minds and much collaboration amongst team members. (This video of the eco-charette shows us all engaging in early discussions about this project – this session was at the beginning of a great adventure!)
The challenges were many, as this team was a green pioneer. Take, for example, that the 10,000-square-foot building collects rainwater, then filters and re-uses it as drinking water to help achieve net-zero water use. As far as we know, that’s a first for a commercial-scale building in the U.S., and it required the facility to be certified as a water treatment plant. Early in design, the project team engaged both the City of Virginia Beach and the Virginia Department of Health to make certain that they could legally re-use water in this way. After much constructive back and forth, that system is running today – and that water tastes great!
Ensuring that only proper materials were used on this project was another considerable challenge. With the Living Building Challenge, materials must be locally sourced and must not contain any of the 22 potentially harmful materials or chemicals on the Challenge’s Red List. The Brock center is Skanska’s second Living Building Challenge project, following Seattle’s Bertschi School Science Classroom that we completed in 2011. (The Bertschi classroom was awarded Living Building certification in 2013, becoming the world’s fourth Living Building.) Being able to tap the resources of our Bertschi School team was a great starting point and ongoing resource for the Brock center team. However, Brock involved different materials and a later Living Building Challenge version, so the Brock team still had to do substantial legwork to ensure that all products met requirements. You can never start early enough on materials research, but thankfully for this project our committed partners of SmithGroupJJR and Hourigan did great work in this regard.
As with all Living Building Challenge projects, though construction is complete the project team will keep close watch over the building. Living Building certification requires the building to be monitored over the next year to ensure it operates as intended, including meeting net zero energy and water goals. You’ll be able to see for yourself how this building’s green features make it independent of outside energy and water sources: starting in February, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation is opening the Brock center for regular tours. As the building is home to CBF’s local staff and environmental education programs, it has the potential to inspire thousands of students to expect and aspire to a future populated by living buildings. Imagine how such a world would help protect the magnificent Chesapeake Bay.
I live in the neighboring city of Norfolk, so I definitely plan to come back and see this important resource in use. I hope to see you there.