New Georgia center as good to environment as refugees it will serve

| by Joseph Grove
New Georgia center as good to environment as refugees it will serve

Friends of Refugees is high-performance products and strategies to mitigate drain of new building on the non-profit's operating budget.

Above all else, own no buildings.

As Brian Bollinger heard it, that was the Hippocratic Oath of non-profits. And it was one he faced head-on as he and his team developed a plan to better serve refugees in Clarkston, Georgia, just outside of metro Atlanta.

Bollinger, the executive director for Friends of Refugees, had successfully worked with donors and county officials to acquire and rezone two adjacent, blighted pieces of property in one of the most diverse and populous areas in the country. The site—already repurposed in part for a community garden—would be ideal for a facility that would not only help his 501(c)(3) educate and provide job training and other services for immigrants from war-torn countries, but also become a space for other community partners that were similarly aligned.

The proposed facility, to be named the Jolly Avenue Development Center (JADC), was envisioned as an innovative neighborhood development center that would “empower refugees through opportunities that provide for their well-being, education and employment.”

Friends of Refugees wanted JADC to benefit the entire neighborhood, which included more than 100 ethnicities within a few minutes’ walk of the site. The center would support the charity’s core belief that “intelligence, ability and ambition are evenly distributed throughout humanity, but the opportunity to deploy those gifts for success is not; and we can change that.”

Only in last decade have technology costs for building that way come to be on par with building in a traditional manner.

But members of his board and would-be benefactors were underwhelmed about contributing to a built structure that experience told them would require heavy ongoing operating and maintenance costs. Such amenities were more a liability than an asset for a mission-driven effort, he was told.

In short, they doubted the enthusiasm they could muster to convince people to support what would essentially be a $45,000-a-year subsidiary of the utility companies.

“We knew we needed a capital asset that wasn’t a liability, but a force multiplier.”

Out of the blue

Even before it occurred to Bollinger that Friends of Refugees needed to go all-in on sustainability, they had begun talks with Suniva Solar, a local employer of refugees through their Refugee Career Hub program. During a visit to the proposed site, a Suniva executive told him that in order for the company to participate on a charitable level, it would expect the project to be a green building.

“That was when we really realized it was time for ‘something completely different’, as Monty Python would say,” Bollinger said.

In time, his research would lead him to dramatically recast their approach to building and funding the JADC.

He learned that the advances in environmental design and construction have a reached a point where they offer a solution to that fundamental problem of non-profits and, he would argue the entire institutional and educational sector. “There is now no reason for a capital asset to be anything other than a net-revenue positive resource, if it is built in an environmentally progressive manner,” he said.

“Only in last decade have technology costs for building that way come to be on par with building in a traditional manner. At its most basic level, you trade building envelope cost increases for such dramatic mechanical system size decreases, that it’s an up-front wash.”

As he began to explore options to purse the route to sustainability, he had a conversation with a grant-making organization whose mission was to help companies cover the ‘increased costs of building green’. Brian soon realized the program was predicated on an outdated paradigm.

“In about 2008, that began to be a fundamentally flawed assumption in my estimation, that to do it right, must cost more money,” he said. “The reality is that if you can get an 80 percent reduction in size of systems needed to manage the interior of the building, you can take all that money and immediately use it to take care of the increased cost of creating an envelope that is suitable for that kind of simpler system.”

Citing the research of the Passive House Institute in the United States (PHIUS), he said that envelope efficiency has crossed over systems efficiency to the point that someone can take dollars otherwise invested in oversized mechanical and electrical systems and deploy them into building a more efficient envelope. “For most buildings over 6,000 square feet, especially in a climate like ours,” he said, “it comes out even.” Coupled with other smart building strategies, this leads to an 85-percent reduction in operating costs.

JADC expects to complete fundraising and partnership within the next few months with construction to begin soon after. Our editors are visiting Friends of Refugees within next few weeks to learn more about the project. Be sure to follow us on twitter and Facebook for more details about Friends of Refugees project as it develops.

In the details

  • Structural. Super-insulated building envelope with R-40 walls, R-60 high SRI cool roof, thermal bridge-free detailing, air-tight envelope with open diffusion and rain screens, advanced windows and doors, active and passive control of year-round solar heat gains.
  • Mechanical. Active air quality monitoring with MERV 13 filters, UHE energy recovery ventilators, solar condensing dehumidifiers, ultra-high SEER split system heat pumps in six occupancy-responsive micro-zones, low energy ceiling fans, elevated ceilings and cross-ventilated rooms.
  • Site Planning. One hundred-year event on-site storm water infiltration, pervious grass paver parking lot, rainwater irrigated landscape architecture, edible perennial plants and abundant outdoor gathering spaces.
  • Electrical. U.H.E. appliances, 100 Kw solar PV array with DC-direct tie to 100 KwH of battery storage, 380-volt DC micro grid backbone for DC-powered LED lighting, ECM mechanicals and ceiling fans, single mode optical fiber backbone for centralized management of network, communications, BIM, security and lighting.
  • Finish and Fixture. More than 90 percent of space is day-lit, light shelves, interior glazing, low maintenance finishes, ULF plumbing fixtures, H.E. heat pump and solar hot water, and heavy incorporation of reclaimed building materials from the Lifecycle Building Center.
  • Energy Modeling. Climate-based siting, solar path finding and continuous computed energy modeling and air tightness testing throughout the build process.
  • Usage/Behavior. Room level sub-metering and plug load monitoring, open source Building Automation Systems and sensors, simplified recycling and composting.

Supporting organizations for JADC and include:

  • Southface Energy Institute
  • Sustainable Design Collaborative—Atlanta
  • Geheber Lewis and Associates Architecture
  • Winter Construction
  • Lifecycle Building Center Atlanta

To learn more about Friends of Refugees and how to support them, visit their site (linked above) or their facebook page.


Topics: Building Green, Cost of Ownership, Exteriors, Passive House, Solar Power, Sustainable Communities


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