After more than two years of searching, Rock Hill officials have settled on what they believe is a suitable location for a new $27 million operations center. But another key question still looms over the project: Will this become the city's first certified green-friendly building?
Negotiations are wrapping up on 32 acres of wooded land near Albright and Anderson roads on the southeast side of town, City Manager Carey Smith told The Herald last week.
The City Council will vote Monday night on a proposal to buy the property for about $1.8 million from a private landowner. Neighbors aren't expected to put up much opposition because the site is heavily wooded, meaning it won't be visible to nearby homes and businesses.
Green advocates: Live up to commitment
Still at issue is whether the facility will be designed to meet standards laid out by the U.S. Green Building Council. Council members haven't made a choice, saying they want to know how much extra money it would cost.
The decision offers an early glimpse into how far the city will go in joining the movement to combat climate change. When he signed the U.S. Mayor's Climate Protection Agreement last year, Mayor Doug Echols said "we as a city are going to do everything we can" to reduce energy use and greenhouse gas emissions.
"This would be a wonderful way to show that we're following what we're preaching," said Joe Zdenek, chairman of the local Sierra Club group. "We've made this commitment. It's up to the city to figure out how far they're going to go with it."
City staffers are leery of adding more time to a project already plagued by delays. An earlier plan to put the site at the city's compost center on Friedheim Road was scuttled due to neighborhood opposition. Then, striking a deal on land took longer than expected.
"We're not ruling it out, but in talking with the mayor and council, we've concluded we're going to have the most well-designed, energy-efficient building that we can," Smith said. "If that achieves some level of certification, that's even better."
Other cities have found that pursuing green ratings adds nothing to the overall price tag. Some report increases of up to 5 percent, according to the most recent figures from the nonprofit Green Building Alliance.
Added costs are dropping as more architects become familiar with the process, said alliance director Rebecca Flora.
"People are realizing there's a better way to design buildings, and it's going to save money," Flora told The Herald. "The market is clearly tipping. You end up with lower energy costs, better quality space. That's something we try to focus people on."
As oil and gas prices climb to record highs, conserving energy becomes even more important, said Frank Traficante, another Rock Hill Sierra Club member. Added upfront costs are "a drop in the bucket compared to the lifetime energy savings that a green operations center will produce," he said.
Even if it doesn't earn the designation, Smith has said the center will include a number of energy-saving features:
n Big windows that allow natural light to stream in, reducing demand for artificial light.
n Heat generated from beneath the floor, eliminating the need for less-efficient overhead blowers.
n The use of solar panels to generate some power, further cutting electricity demand.
Winthrop: Extra costs are worthwhile
At Winthrop University, the new Lois Rhame West Center became one of the first buildings in York County to get the green rating, known officially as Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.
That process added about four months, as well as an increase of 2 percent in design costs and another 2 percent to 4 percent in construction costs to the $27 million project, university officials say. However, facilities manager Walter Hardin said the investment should pay for itself within 10 years in the form of lower heating and cooling bills and reduced electricity costs.