A practical shade of green for new Grand Forks office building
What does a new Grand Forks office building designed by architects and engineers, for architects and engineers, look like? Green, in a practical sort of way. The new 42,000-square-foot office building at 4050 Garden View Drive, across South 42nd ...
What does a new Grand Forks office building designed by architects and engineers, for architects and engineers, look like?
Green, in a practical sort of way.
The new 42,000-square-foot office building at 4050 Garden View Drive, across South 42nd Street from the Alerus Center, opened in May. It was a necessity for AE2S, a civil and environmental engineering firm, and Icon Architectural Group, which were overcrowded in their former locations.
Icon partner Mike Kuntz said it also is somewhat of a "showcase" of the firm's expertise. The building is on track to achieve the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, gold certification, and a few more investments could push it up to the top platinum level.
But he said the environmentally friendly elements already in place, including a geothermal heating and cooling system under the parking lot and flush-less urinals that conserve water, are just as practical as they are innovative.
"There's a fine line on what makes sense in the green world and what's just kind of greenwashing," he said. "But we tried to balance operational costs and payback and just good business planning, so that was the reasoning and challenge behind it."
AE2S CEO Steve Burian said the top LEED certification is "a little bit of window dressing" -- an attractive designation, but not a reason to add unnecessary elements.
"The real value in building a LEED building is doing the stuff," he said.
That includes triple-pane windows that can withhold heat better than some walls, as well as the building's white roof that will reflect sunlight and drive down cooling costs in the summer.
LED lighting in the parking lot and throughout the building, equipped with sensors to automatically turn off if no one is in the room, reduce electricity usage.
Wood accents around the elevator are made entirely from repurposed wood.
Burian said the project also allowed the firm to use a "trial process" to test new features for a stormwater retention pond. Fed by rainwater that falls onto the parking lot, part of which is made of pervious paver blocks, the water is eventually used to irrigate the low-maintenance landscaping around the building.
He said AE2S has already used its new knowledge from the pond in designing the landscaping for UND's Gorecki Alumni Center and the Choice Wellness Center that will open next year.
"Those components are all part of the LEED process that we did, but those all made sense to us," Burian said.
Kuntz said the green features cost more initially than standard building practices. But these extra costs could be recouped through reduced electricity and water usage in as little as five years, he said.
Room to grow
Besides being more efficient than the former offices, the new building also provided a big boost of additional space to the Grand Forks companies.
Kuntz said Icon has already hired five employees since moving in May, bringing its Grand Forks work force total to 27. The company started in 2002 at UND's Center for Innovation, and also has offices in Fargo, Bismarck and Brookings, S.D.
AE2S President Charlie Vein said the company's former corporate headquarters on South Washington Street only offered about 11,000 square feet of useable space -- much less than the 25,000 square feet they now have that has come with additional training and conference rooms and bigger offices.
But the company, which also has offices throughout North Dakota, Minnesota and Montana, has almost filled the new space with its 60 Grand Forks employees. There is room for about 10 more in a new 2,000-square-foot space on the ground floor, and Burian said the company is looking at buying a warehouse to be able to grow even more.
Vein said the move has allowed employees to focus on their work, not the crowded working conditions of the former building
"As an engineering company, the only thing we really sell is our time and knowledge," he said. "We don't sell a product, so it's really what comes out of our head. So having an environment where you can encourage people to excel in what they do is important."
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