Monday, April 21, 2014

Norristown - A Green Community?

DEP Building on Main  
Tomorrow is Earth Day, and as I said last week, you can join one of the clean-up teams around town in the morning, form your own after school or after work team in your neighborhood, or simply clean up your own property.

But, although picking up trash and tidying up is important for the image of our town, it isn't all that Earth Day is about. Merely removing litter isn't going to help the climate change problem. Today, I'm going to highlight what IS being done in Norristown to help the planet.

Two office buildings in town have LEED Green Building Certification. LEED stands for Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design. To obtain the certification, a building design must pass strict requirements for energy and water use.

DEP's cistern
The first building is the PA Department of Environmental Protection's Southeast Regional Office, located on Main St. right across from the public square, near Swede. The department is responsible for programs that reduce air and water pollution in this region of the state, so it makes sense that their building design incorporates environmental sustainability. The structure has a gold level LEED certification. The main lobby is open to the floors above, and the plants in that area help to keep the air on the upper floors fresh, to avoid sick building syndrome. Also located in the lobby is a cistern where rainwater from the roof is collected and is then used to flush toilets. They have auxiliary solar panels on the roof.

The building has recycling bins for everything possible, but they also recycle the binders they get in from businesses submitting regulatory reports. In the main lobby, they set up a shelf where these binders are placed--anyone can go in to help themselves. The free binders are popular with teachers and home schoolers. The DEP encourages its employees to use public transportation (the back of the building is right across from the Transportation Center) and to bike into work. Their parking garage has a secure bike rack, plus shower and locker facilities for those who cycle in. You can watch a short video on the DEP building and see its amenities at

Green roof at the DEP 
You might say, of course the DEP's going to have an environmentally friendly building--that's their job. But across town is another LEED certified green office building: the headquarters of US Maintenance at Logan Square.

Remember, USM's building was originally a department store, first Sears, the Ports Of The World, then it sat empty for a long time, then we were told it was going to be a film studio in what lots of people think of as one of the greatest scams the county and borough ever fell for. We're still paying for it.

USM's Lobby
Then USM decided to move their corporate headquarters here, providing hundreds of new jobs for Norristown, and when they converted the old Sears building, they added solar blinds, skylights, high efficiency lighting and A/C systems, Energy Star appliances, bike racks and showers, preferred parking for alternative fuel vehicles, reduced water usage systems, and a green roof (yes, grass on the roof, which absorbs 50-90% excess runoff--important at Logan Square where everything else is asphalt).

USM's Green Roof 
They reused and recycled materials during construction, and have an ongoing recycling and green cleaning programs. Water usage was reduced by 32%. The whole building uses about 45% less energy than a traditional office building. You can learn more about USM's Silver LEED CI (Commercial Interiors) Certification at this link.

It's worth noting that USM reused an old store, adding some features for architectural interest to what otherwise was a rather plain, drab building. That's a much greener solution that demolishing a building and putting up new construction on the same spot. The same could be done with Montgomery Hospital, instead of the wasteful plan Einstein and Elon have proposed, not to mention the trade-down in architectural quality.

Could we do more to make Norristown the sustainability capital of Montgomery County? Of course we could. What about incentives for developers who incorporate green building technologies into their plans?

Montgomery County Community College students just installed these very cool-looking wind turbines in Pottstown. Think about it--we've got a street named Airy for a reason. All those breezes at the high points of our town could be put to good use while adding an artsy look that we really need for our Arts Hill district. The added energy could be used at Municipal Hall or to light street lamps in that neighborhood. Perhaps a project like that could be funded with a grant from the state, or maybe we could even work out a rental agreement where we light streetlights, and the energy company we rent from gets the land for the turbines rent-free, plus the excess revenue from energy sold to PECO.

The Municipality's expenditures for liquid fuel have been running about $22,000 per month. Surely we could come up with some more sustainable strategies to reduce that cost, couldn't we?

I do know that at least 2 of our council members bike to work. Olivia Brady has some good ideas about establishing bike lanes through our alleys for safety. We ought to have an Environmental Town Hall, to discuss solutions like this.

What do you think?

1 comment:

  1. TNP is working with the OIC on obtaining our LEED certification, very costly. However, the exterior lighting around the OIC are solar powered and meet the standards to prevent light pollution. We do simple steps on the weekend like setting a weekend mode for the thermostat and our windows are energy efficient. I think most businesses/organizations haven't caught the green thumb because of price. It's very costly to get it done, but once the work is complete, it starts to pay for itself.