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Toledo, Ohio & Lake Erie

The Press Newspaper

The Press Newspaper

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If Toledo is really the Silicon Valley of solar energy, as CNN called us, shouldn’t we plug in a few of the panels we make here?

If Ohio is the number one state in the nation for alternative energy development, as Site Selection magazine writes, shouldn’t we capitalize on this leadership role?

Of course we should.

Which brings me to the United Way Building.
United Way wants to tear down its 100,000 square-foot energy sieve built in 1969 and build a modern 25,000 square-foot energy-efficient building.

Preservationists, Mayor Carty Finkbeiner included, want to hang on to the past and stop United Way.

But, in this case, the past is an anchor that keeps us from our future. Full-speed ahead. Tear it down. Build an energy efficient building that says we, as a community, believe in alternative energy and conserving resources for our children.

Toledo can’t be the leader in technology. Silicon Valley and Seattle beat us there. But, we are the perceived leader in solar and alternative energy and we shouldn’t let another region wrest away this hope for securing our future.

Full speed ahead.

In recent weeks, First Solar announced a $123 million plant expansion that is expected to add more than 130 jobs. Xunlight Corporation has recently garnered some $40 million in investment. And, the new arena is a beacon for green building.

Full speed ahead.

The soul of downtown Toledo is not in its buildings; it’s reflected in the people struggling in the shadows of those buildings. These are the people United Way serves—children and families. And, it’s also reflected in the people that work in buildings built when energy was cheap, buildings that will become too expensive to operate as energy costs skyrocket.

In fact, many have already become too costly. Consider:
•    River East Economic Revitalization Corporation abandoned The Andrews Building because it couldn’t afford the annual $65,000 utility bills;
•    COSI spent more than $204,000 in utilities for the last year it operated, according to Lori Hauser, director of operations. Not surprising. High utilities contributed to the former tenant, Portside Festival Marketplace, closing its doors because merchants had to price products higher than competitors. This according to Portside’s former manager;
•    The United Way last year spent more than $200,000 in utilities for a building that is half empty.

This is the tip of the energy iceberg. Even today, First Energy is before the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio with another rate increase and we already have the highest electrical rates in the state.

In United Way’s case, reducing utilities costs is only one reason the board wants to build an energy efficient building.

Bill Kitson, president of United Way, estimates renovating the existing building would cost more than $11 million. When done, the building will still be half empty and rents more expensive. Annual operating costs will still be $800,000. The new smaller building will cost $6.6 million, including demolition, and have projected annual operating costs of $125,000. That’s a lot of savings.

“These savings go back into the community to help people and families,” Kitson said.

My soul feels better already.

Full speed ahead.

The new building will employ many energy saving devices. Dan Tabor, architect with The Collaborative, says the building will feature a south glass wall with low-e high efficiency glass to capture solar gain in the winter and an overhang to provide shade in the summer. It will have a zoned heating system to regulate heating and cooling, motion and light sensors to minimize use of artificial light, waterless urinals and low-flow toilet and faucet fixtures. R-values are 25 for the walls and 27 for the ceiling. Building materials will be purchased regionally to reduce shipping expenses and products with recycled content will be specified.

Tabor said his firm is studying what level of certification to apply for in the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program sponsored by United States Green Building Council. The program reduces greenhouse emissions through energy efficiency and conservation.

More could be done with this building. There is no storage system for excess solar gain and R-values could be higher. But, United Way should move forward and not be deterred by preservationists.

Sometimes, it takes someone else to see in you what you can’t see in yourself. Our government, business and community leaders should take advantage of the budding leadership role others see us playing in the alternative energy field.

Our message to the rest of the nation should be, “Green Building: If we can do it in Toledo, you can do it anywhere.”

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