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NGA headquarters will be largest LEED-certified building

May. 11, 2010 - 06:00AM   |  
By TIM KAUFFMAN   |   Comments
Design and construction of the NGA New Campus East project is being managed by the Army Corps of Engineers Baltimore District.
Design and construction of the NGA New Campus East project is being managed by the Army Corps of Engineers Baltimore District. (MARC BARNES / ARMY CORPS OF ENGINEERS)

The Defense Department agency that develops map-based intelligence for military and civilian leaders is putting itself on the map when it comes to environmentally friendly buildings.

The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency's new $1.8 billion headquarters, being built at Fort Belvoir in northern Virginia, is on track to become the largest federal facility certified under the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program.

The 2.4 million-square-foot facility will be the third-largest government building in the Washington area, behind only the Pentagon and the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center. The new facility, mandated under the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) process, will consolidate about 8,500 employees who now work out of seven regional locations. Construction of the entire complex won't be completed for another year, although some employees will begin moving into the new building in January.

The Army Corps of Engineers is managing construction on the 130-acre complex, which will include the main eight-story office building, a data center, a central utility plant, a parking garage and a visitor control center. The NGA Campus East is the largest of the BRAC projects, all of which must be completed by September 2011.

The complex's size and the speed at which construction must be completed have presented the most significant challenges, said Bill Tully, the Army Corps' deputy program manager.

Officials are seeking LEED silver certification, although they think they may be within reach of obtaining gold, the second-highest level.

"In addition to creating a much more comfortable work environment for the employees, these technologies conserve energy usage in a much more efficient way," said Carey Griffin, chief electrical engineer for the campus.

One of the most ambitious green components of the new headquarters is a heating and cooling system that uses chilled beams instead of overhead ductwork to deliver temperature-controlled air to workspaces. The chilled beams 4,000 in the main building act as radiant overhead panels that use chilled water to absorb heat. Fresh air for ventilation will be delivered across the surface of the chilled beams. Secondary pumps mix chilled, 52-degree water with the return water which is at about 64 degrees from the system to provide 58-degree water to the beams. The 52-degree water is generated by cooling towers when the outside air temperature is below 48 degrees, and by chillers at other times.

The technology reduces the overall amount of conditioning that is required to reach the optimal temperature, cutting the amount of energy used. For instance, four of the seven chillers providing cool air to the facility will be shut off during the winter months, allowing the entire facility to be cooled with fresh air brought into the facility through a rooftop unit, said Dan Kailey, mechanical engineer at the agency.

Stormwater runoff will be collected in a retention pond and used for irrigation, allowing the agency to reduce potable water consumption. Inside, the building will use paints, carpet adhesives, sealants and furniture that emit low levels of volatile organic compounds, which are chemical pollutants that have adverse health effects.

The complex also will sport vegetative roofs, including a one-acre roof on top of the central utility plant.

The challenge of building a green facility was perhaps more daunting for this facility than others, given the constraints imposed by the agency's intelligence operations. For instance, security requirements limit the amount of natural lighting that can be brought into the building from unobstructed windows. Walls of windows on each floor that would stream light into office space in an ordinary building only light the narrow passageways along the outside of each floor in this facility; the interior office space is walled off from these floor-to-ceiling windows.

Still, employees will have more access to light in this facility than they are accustomed to, Kailey said. Most managers' office spaces are pushed to the center of the building, while cubicles for front-line employees are positioned closer to the edge so they get most of the benefit from the natural light.

In addition, natural light will flood the 50,000-square-foot central atrium from an overhead skylight system. The atrium roof is made of a low-weight material that is highly resilient, self-cleaning and recyclable. It costs up to 70 percent less to install than glass, and transmits more light.

The film was perhaps most famously used on the Beijing National Aquatics Center, dubbed the Water Cube, which was built for the 2008 Summer Olympics.

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