Thursday, May 25, 2006
Amid concerns about the project’s cost, its environmental design and its location in a National Historic District, the Monterey City Council is slated to certify the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the planned public service center at a meeting on Wednesday, May 31.
“They will only be considering the project from the perspective of the EIR,” says Carl Anderson, Monterey’s public facilities director. “On June 20, they’ll look at the budget, the contractor’s plans, and they will be basically agreeing to the level of greening of the building.”
If approved, the center will be built in the parking lot behind the existing City Hall, on Madison and Van Buren Streets. Originally planned as a 55,000-square-foot structure in 2002, the project has been downsized because of public criticism. New plans call for a 35,000-square-foot public service center.
At the May 31 meeting, the council will also consider the project’s LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification.
The LEED Green Building Rating System is a voluntary national standard for developing sustainable buildings. It’s been growing increasingly popular up and down the state. For example, the city of San Jose mandates that all new buildings meet the requirements for LEED’s silver rating.
To achieve one of five possible LEED ratings (certified, bronze, silver, gold or platinum), a project must earn a predetermined number of points from a detailed checklist of environmental features.
But higher levels of LEED certification can cost more money to develop, says Assistant City Manager Fred Cohn. In other words, the greener the City goes with the new building, the more expensive the project.
“I believe that the design work and cost estimating has been assuming a bronze level,” Cohn says. “One of the things we’ll be looking at is whether there will be a return in our investment to take it to the next level, which is silver.”
Anderson says city staff is recommending a silver level of LEED rating. “We feel silver is appropriate,” he says. “That’ll be part of the cost issue that will be addressed.”
The cost of the new facility has been criticized since the project’s inception. In March 2005, the budget for the 41,000-square-foot center was estimated at $13.9 million. But, says Anderson, the newer, smaller building will reflect “greater than $1 million savings,” but, he admits, it’s “a moving target.”
Anderson doesn’t have an exact dollar amount, and says the Council won’t have current cost estimates until next month. “We’re planning on having the new budget in place by June 20,” he says.
Critics of the plan like Richard Peden, a local LEED accredited professional, says that the City is naive if it thinks it can obtain a silver certification at this late stage in the process.
“The LEED process really begins with the design, the architecture, the very location of the project,” Peden says. “My fear is that they’re just throwing the idea of LEED certification around to shoehorn the project through.”
Yet according to Cohn, the project’s designers have already been using the LEED criteria to assess its environmental rating.
Recently, the public service center has also come under fire from the National Park Service. In a May 18 letter, the federal agency says although the center’s revised design is a “step in the correct direction,” it’s still unacceptable, and suggests that the City move the building to the south side of Madison, out of the National Historic District, and restore the existing City-owned structures within the district instead of demolishing them.
THE MEETING WILL BEGIN AT 7PM WEDNESDAY, MAY 31, IN THE MONTEREY CITY COUNCIL CHAMBERS, located at the CORNER OF PACIFIC AND MADISON STREETS.