By Carolyn JacksonOctober 6, 2008
Venture onto any Army installation and it's easy to see that construction is booming. Through fiscal year 2011, more than $40 billion is being invested in the Army's military-construction program for facilities such as barracks, company operations centers, battalion headquarters, and child-development and fitness centers.
What isn't perhaps as noticeable to Soldiers and their families is the environmentally friendly way these new facilities are being designed and constructed. Beginning this fiscal year, the Army - through its construction agent, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers - requires that all new climate-controlled facilities be certifiable under the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design silver rating.
By using LEED's nationally accepted whole-building approach to sustainable "green" design, the Army is improving energy efficiency and reducing life-cycle costs and environmental impacts.
"LEED has a scorecard," said Harry Goradia, a mechanical engineer at the USACE headquarters in Washington, D.C. "Projects are evaluated in five key areas of human and environmental health: sustainable site development, water savings, energy efficiency, materials selection and indoor environmental quality."
Points are accumulated in the five areas to reach one of four levels - certified, silver, gold or platinum. To meet the LEED silver standards for new construction, facilities need 33 to 38 points. The maximum number of points available for a platinum rating is 69.
According to USGBC statistics, building in the United States account for 36 percent of energy use, 30 percent of raw-materials use, 12 percent of potable-water consumption and 39 percent of greenhouse-gas emissions.
The LEED standards aim to lower these percentages. To that end, at installations throughout the Army, USACE district project managers and design-and-construction teams are sitting down with members of the directorates of public works to determine what points are appropriate for a particular project and how to meet, at a minimum, LEED silver standards. Some items are fairly easy. Goradia, said.
"You are awarded points for including things like bicycle racks, because you're reducing fuel consumption and road maintenance, and for providing showers for bike riders so that people are encouraged to use their bikes," said Goradia, USACE's LEED subject-matter expert.
Other credits require more effort. At Fort Bliss, Texas, where the Corps' Fort Worth District is overseeing construction of facilities for the $4 billion expansion, the project team is capturing storm-water runoff in retention ponds, where it's held and then filtered through the sandy soil and back into the ground.
"If we just let it run off into the storm drains and then into the Rio Grande, we'd run the risk of putting contaminants back into the water stream and not recharging the local aquifer," said Cecil Penn, a LEED-accredited professional and senior project manager with the Jacobs/Huitt-Zollars joint-venture land development engineer organization.
Using the sand as a natural filtration system is an example of meeting the needs of a sustainable environment based on location, Penn said. The same method wouldn't necessarily work at other locations where there is a lot of clay, because that type of soil drains slowly and would hold the water rather than filter it.
Penn said the Fort Worth District team also worked closely with Fort Bliss officials to develop a sustainable approach for the type of landscape they wanted.
"We plan to use indigenous plants to capture the desert environment," he said.
Using native plants allows the team to create a natural environment while at the same time reducing the amount of water needed to sustain the landscape, Penn said. This, in turn, cuts costs, because the plants won't need to be watered or maintained as often.
At Fort Carson, Colo., Resident Engineer Matt Ellis said he is encouraged by the use of the LEED standards. A member of the Corps' Omaha District, Ellis has spent 24 years working for USACE.
"One of our charters for the Corps is to be stewards of the environment. With LEED, not only is it more environmentally friendly, but it's also healthier and more occupant friendly," he said.
"Natural lighting is something that makes a huge difference," Ellis said, noting that many of the facilities at Fort Carson are being built with large, open areas and plenty of windows and skylights.
Implementing the LEED requirements is a learning process. Each Corps district with a military program is required to have a LEED-accredited professional on staff. Ellis said he and his team discuss the LEED standards at their weekly design meetings and sometimes even conduct LEED-specific meetings.
Many of the requirements seem to conflict with one another; more fresh air for building occupants requires you to have to treat the building with more heating and air-conditioning systems, Ellis said. "As with so many other things in life, it's all about finding the balance between our commitment to the environment and making it as comfortable and healthy as we can for the occupant."
John J. Resta, scientific advisor for the U.S. Army Center for Health Prevention and Promotion, agreed.
"We are the Army's public-health command," he said. "We support construction in accordance with the LEED silver standards. I think this is one of the best things we can do in terms of increasing the public health of the Army.
"When you have improved indoor air quality," he said, "you have less hacking, less sneezing, your eyes aren't red, the transmission of respiratory illnesses drops. If people have access to showers, they are more apt to ride a bike to work. That's smart design."
Resta said the next step is building smart Army communities using LEED-neighborhood development standards. USACHPPM is discussing this concept with the Installation Management Command and USACE to develop a process to ensure that Army master plans promote active lifestyles and offer connectivity between residential, commercial, retail and recreational areas.
Andrea Kuhn, USACE master planning team associate, points to Fort Belvoir, Va., as an example of these new neighborhoods.
"For Belvoir created a new 'town center,' featuring a mixed-use development of commercial establishments on the ground floor with family hous ing above," she said. "This provides easy access to the convenience store, coffee shop, and other goods and services."
Additionally, Kuhn said, families residing in approximately 500 newly constructed housing units at the Virginia post are within an easy five-minute walk or bike ride of the town center without having to use their cars.
Master plans that integrate these types of uses create numerous opportunities for health benefits, Kuhn said. By clustering mixed uses, "walkable" communities are created and more open space and common recreational areas are provided, offering residents options other than reliance on their cars.
When these types of neighborhoods are available, "people can go to work, shop, go to the movies, or go to the park without driving as much," Resta said. "As a result, they tend to be more active. They walk more, bike more. They tend to lose weight and are less stressed because they aren't spending a lot of time commuting. If they need a gallon of milk, they get on their bikes and ride the half-mile to the commissary to get it.
"What we're trying to do is make our people healthier and happier - and by people we mean Soldiers, families, retirees, Department of Army civilians and any contractors who happen to be in the area," he said. "We want to give an extra pillar to LEED to reduce energy, improve the environment, and improve public health. We want to build buildings that improve the lives of the occupants."
And for Ellis, that's a huge part of his job satisfaction.
"Being around these Soldiers and working on an Army installation is like no other job site. These guys are going off and putting their lives on the line. The idea that we can do something to improve their quality of life while they're here is a good feeling."
Carolyn Jackson works for the Headquarters, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Public Affairs Office.