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Sustainability becomes integral part of military construction

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Military presence is not the only thing growing in the region as a result of the military’s “Grow the Force” infrastructure build-up campaign. Sustainability is also spreading through the region, as a result of the military’s commitment to building new infrastructure to green building standards.

The Navy expects to spend $2 billion on work-in-place construction in the region during fiscal year 2010, said Lee Saunders, a public affairs officer with the Naval Facilities Engineering Command Southwest. Of that, $180 million is funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

The estimate does not include the Naval Hospital at Camp Pendleton. Funded in whole by the Recovery Act, the project has an estimated price tag of $250 million to $500 million.

With each project, the Navy aims to achieve a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Silver rating, under the system administered by the U.S. Green Building Council, Saunders said.

However, in the present economic climate, the bidding environment has become increasingly competitive. Many contractors are submitting value-added proposals that target LEED Gold or Platinum for such projects, said Carolyn Keith, a LEED consultant for the EcoLogic Studio and a board member of the U.S. Green Building Council San Diego Chapter.

“Formally it’s Silver, but we’re seeing more go for Gold,” Keith said.

Increasing the LEED rating is a good way for firms to differentiate themselves in the present bidding environment, she said.

As of yet, the military has no estimate of the number of projects it plans to build to LEED Gold standards or higher, Saunders said.

Over the past several years, Keith has watched sustainability grow to become an integral part of military construction. Her company is involved as a subcontractor in contracts totaling more than $1 billion, including projects on Navy, Marine Corps and Army bases throughout California, Arizona and Nevada.

Prior to adopting the LEED program to certify the sustainability of its construction projects, the Navy had its own Sustainable Project Rating Tool (SPiRiT) program in place. The program was similar to LEED version 2.0, under which the Navy later certified many projects.

Prior to the release of the latest version of the program, LEED version 3, the military registered hundreds of projects under the prior version, allowing them to be grandfathered in, Keith said.

While there was a small fee increase associated with the new version, the main difference is the additional points given to certain LEED credits, depending on its location, Keith said. For example, LEED version 3 gives additional points to Southern California projects that conserve water.

The military plans to ramp up its sustainability efforts over the next few years, with a goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2020, Keith said.

“In the next 20 years the military will make energy efficiency a major goal,” Keith said.

LEED projects on military bases are often different from those in surrounding communities. The military does not have to abide by local business standards, but often has higher construction standards for buildings depending on their intended use, Keith said.

While achieving LEED certification with consideration of other building standards may be challenging, in some ways it can be easier. The military has different and often more relaxed policies about reclaimed water. Additional LEED points are awarded to projects that use reclaimed water, Keith said.

With military projects coming in under bid, it is possible even more LEED-certified projects may be completed on military bases in the region in the near future. All Recovery Act funds must be obligated by 2012, so any savings generated must also be allocated by the deadline.

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