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‘Green’ facilities in Reading hold surprises for visitors

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Posted: Friday, March 30, 2012 1:58 pm | Updated: 11:37 am, Wed Apr 4, 2012.

Students from the Sustainable Building Advisor (SBA) Institute who came to Reading for a tour of two LEED-certified facilities on Friday, March 16, got a lesson in green living from what they considered to be an unlikely source, two area non-profits.

There is no doubt that building green means spending lots of green. That is why students enrolled in the SBA who came from Bucks County for a green building tour in Berks were surprised to learn that the area’s first LEED-certified buildings were constructed by not-for-profit agencies.

The group kicked off its tour at the Berks County Community Foundation (BCCF) at Third and Court streets, which has received platinum LEED certification and is the area’s first LEED-certified office building.

Next, students visited Opportunity House, 430 N. Second St. Opportunity House’s Learning and Technology Center, completed in 2011, is poised to receive LEED gold certification. Both buildings were designed by architect William Vitale, owner of Designworks of Reading.

Both projects serve as models for the benefits of building green and left students of the SBA, many of whom are working professionals in fields such as solar technology, facilities, and engineering, in awe.

Mark Bortman, owner of Exact Solar, a leading installer of solar energy systems in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, also writes a column about the solar energy industry for Times Publishing Newspapers Inc.

He was delighted by the tour to Reading.

“Nonprofits are always challenged by the why and how they spend their dollars. If these two non-profits see the value in sustainable building, why isn’t everyone doing it?” Bortman asked.

“Green buildings are not just about how you build them,” said Kevin Murphy, president of the Berks County Community Foundation, as he led the group of eight students on a tour of the building. “They’re about how you live in them.”

To make sure that the time, expense, and complication of constructing a green building in Reading was not in vain, it has been important to BCCF staff to live up to the green standards set by the building itself and to encourage others who pass through the doors to do so as well.

Groups scheduling gatherings in the Community Foundation’s conference and meeting rooms are encouraged to use the dishes provided at the facility rather than to bring in Styrofoam or paper products.

To encourage its use, the building’s main stairwell is strategically placed to the right of the front door, because studies show that most people turn to the right upon entering a building.

Though the costs of constructing green buildings is considerable, going green definitely has its advantages, even for nonprofit agencies who struggle to provide essential services to those in need.

“Most appealing was the opportunity to reduce operating costs,” said architect Vitale when asked why Opportunity House decided to go green in the construction of its Learning and Technology Center.

Vitale is very aware of the monetary struggles faced by local nonprofits. He dedicates much of his time volunteering on the Berks County Conservancy's board of directors, the steering committee for the Berks-Lancaster Green Building Association, Habitat for Humanity's construction committee and the Berks Arts Council's Greater Film Festival Committee.

He's also the producer and host of "Building Green" on BCTV and previously served on the Reading Planning Commission.

Because of the time he has spent serving other nonprofit organizations, Vitale was very cognitive of the need for Opportunity House to cut costs on constructing their Learning and Technology Center where they could.

“To illustrate that you can do green building with a tighter budget, we had to make a couple of compromises,” Vitale explained. “The learning center has a less sophisticated heating and cooling system, for instance.”

Murphy hopes that the Community Foundation’s office building will be a catalyst for more sustainable building in the community.

“One of our objectives here was to change the way we build buildings here in Berks County,” Murphy said. “We were hoping that some of the standards in green design technology would just become standards in the design community.”

The SBA Institute is a national certificate training program for building professionals eager to apply sustainable strategies to the buildings they design, construct, and maintain. The SBA offers its 9-month long certificate program throughout the United States and Canada.

The partial class of eight students who visited BCCF and Opportunity House were enrolled in the program through Bucks County Community College. Though classes had visited the BCCF in the past, this was the first year that Opportunity House was added to the tour.

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