Summer 2001 Newsletter

Sacramento Urges Innovation In Public Facilities Sec. Adams Sees Direct Link To Better Schools

Aileen AdamsSchool facilities consist of more than simply four walls and a roof. The building massing, the size of windows and the orientation of the classrooms all have measurable effects on the students in terms of scholastic achievement and conceptual retention. At the urging of Secretary of State and Consumer Affairs Aileen Adams and her team of experts, the legislature is finally realizing the link between education and school facilities. NSBN is proud to present this interview with State Secreatry of State and Consumer Affairs Aileen Adams and Arnold Sowell, Jr.

Sec. Adams, could you give our readers a synopsis of the policy dialogue taking place within the State Consumer Services Agency regarding the need for and the planning of sustainable new public facilities?

Aileen Adams
State Consumer Services Agency

We must begin to look at what a building costs over its lifetime and include such items as energy savings and increased employee production to that equation. This is especially true given the fact that upfront costs are a mere 2-percent of the total cost of a building, while operation and maintenance costs equal roughly 6-percent and personnel costs are about 92-percent. But, in order to implement an approach which focuses upon life cycle costing, we have to change the current culture. And that's what we're in the process of trying to do.

What's compelling the State to take on the challenge of implementing sustainable development?

Aileen Adams

First, it saves taxpayers money.

Second, it creates buildings that are healthier, making them more productive.

Third, the buildings are vastly more energy efficient, which is of particular importance during our energy crisis.

And fourth, sustainable development greatly benefits the environment because it ensures use of recycled materials, which diverts tremendous amounts of materials from landfills.

And what are the political challenges at the state level when you try to make a cultural change within the public institutions responsible for financing, designing and building new state facilities?

Aileen Adams

Cultural change really begins with education and altering the historic view of cost. It's about making every agency involved in the building process--including the Legislature and the Department of Finance--understand that sustainability provides a more productive environment for employees and is cost effective over a period of years-- that ultimately saves taxpayer dollars.

Often public facilities projects are challenged for not being on-time or on-budget and public sector staff are thus typically risk-averse to experimenting with building forms that are new. Have you found any resistance within state government? If so, how have you overcome whatever hesitation there's been to trying something that hasn't been done before in the public sector?

Aileen Adams

We overcame a lot of distrust among agencies during a site visit to San Diego where we toured two identically constructed buildings where one had been retrofitted with energy efficiency and sustainability measures and the other had not. The advantages of the retrofitted building in terms of cost savings, energy efficiency and productive work environment were apparent to everyone. And after that tour, it became very clear that sustainability was not difficult and made sense on many different levels.

The DGS staff saw first hand how they could benefit from the expertise of the environmental and health departments in government. A true partnership began to form that day and has been strengthened ever since. Now we have a team approach in the way we design and construct buildings. I give DGS a lot of credit because that was a big change for them.

Mr. Sowell, the East End Project in Sacramento and the Downtown L.A. Caltrans Headquarters building are examples of the evolving design and construction framework we've been talking about. Will the state be able to use these projects as models for other new state buildings, including new school facilities?

Arnold Sowell, Jr.
State Consumer Services Agency

The great thing on the school construction front is that there is a significant effort underway between state agencies, utilities, non-profit organizations and others called The Collaborative for High Performance Schools (CHPS). They are using these sustainable building practices, technologies, and implementation procedures as a foundation for the development of high performance schools.

A practical question. The public sector typically takes on a project like this, phases it out and budgets for it in a manner often inconsistent with the cost of a building system over its lifecycle. This isn't the best way for a project to arise, it's not the way it should be budgeted, and it's not the way it should be managed. How then, do you overcome past practice? How do you introduce the notion that a new construction is a holistic process that will have a lifecycle of 20, 30, 40 years?

Aileen Adams

We're beginning that process right now, and the key is training for every state agency involved in the building process. We should also look to the private sector, which has recognized that sustainable building makes sense and learn from their experiences. There are many private sector companies that are finding that this type of construction is saving money and working well for their employees. We need to integrate these experiences into the state's capital outlay process.

It's harder than one might think to overcome these age-old paradigms of budgeting and development. But in the end, regardless of the difficulty, sustainability simply makes sense and we've taken a giant step toward its implementation through the Governor's Executive Order and the work of the task force. Their recommendations will be released in a few weeks.

All of us must remember that when we build, we build forever. As Winston Churchill once said, "We shape our buildings and then they shape us."

Mr. Sowell, what are your thoughts re: the challenges, obstacles and hesitations standing in the way of this new paradigm being embraced by public facilities personnel at the state, regional and local levels? From your experience what are the argumentative and logistical obstacles that are keeping sustainability from truly being embraced?

Arnold Sowell, Jr.

As Secretary Adams mentioned, right now the thinking around most fiscal operations is that you look at building construction from a "first cost" standpoint and separate out operations and maintenance costs over the lifecycle of the building. And despite the widespread understanding that resource efficient buildings will see savings over their lifetime, the fiscal types only notice or recognize the increased up-front allocation.

The other critical component is intrinsic to the actual project development process--you need to look at the building as a system, not merely an amalgam of separate subcomponents. Building systems are inextricably intertwined. An integrated design approach is what the current state capitol outlay program needs to incorporate into its project development process. Such a process allows architects, engineers, and others to spend time developing sustainable building applications. For instance, improved lighting means less heat generation and therefore, the buildings mechanical and electrical systems can possibly be scaled down. You need the right folks in the room to make these types of decisions.

Lastly, Mr. Sowell, do you see sustainable building practices being integrated into the language of the next state school bond, park bond, or library bond?

Arnold Sowell, Jr.

I would hope so and here's one of the reasons why. Not too long ago a study was commissioned by Pacific Gas & Electric and conducted by the Herschong Mahone Group revolving around "daylighting." Daylighting is a technique of incorporating as much natural light as possible into the building design and is an integral feature of any sustainable building project.

This study found that students in classrooms with additional windows increased performance on math tests by 20-percent and by 26-percent on reading tests, as compared to those with less daylighting. So these sustainability guidelines are not merely motivated by fiscal sensibility but to directly enhance the classroom performance and learning atmosphere for students.

This type of empirical evidence should assist decision makers in concluding that sustainable building practices should be incorporated into bond measures. And my hope would be that the next school of library bond will follow the lead of the recent park bond, which included language on the use of recycled content materials in the various park projects.