Tour the West Seattle building that’s going to make solar history

May 28, 2009 10:03 am
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 |   Environment | High Point | West Seattle news

You’ve seen the big green banner on Nucor – now, a closer look at the building that it’s touting, as it finishes taking shape. Early Wednesday morning, we joined a rare hard-hat tour of the construction site for the High Point Neighborhood Center, which will be — among other distinctions — the biggest solar-powered social-services building in the nation, with its roof holding the biggest solar array in our state. (Construction started with groundbreaking last August; here’s our coverage.) The solar panels on its roof are not the only aspects that have the $13 million Neighborhood Center angling for LEED Gold certification, however – it’s got a geothermal component too. Note the pipe in this photo, which is a LOT more than it seems:

Also in the photo, our tour guide, Ray Li from Neighborhood House, the Seattle-based nonprofit that’s building HPNC. He explained that pipe goes 300 feet underground – where the temperature is a constant 56 degrees — as part of a “ground-source heat pump” system to keep the building’s temperature equalized. So what else is making this building a model of environmentally minded construction? Read on, and we’ll show and tell you what we saw and heard:

Those are some of the triple-pane windows now hung as the building takes shape — double-pane is the normal standard for insulated windows, but this adds an extra layer. Li explained that no one in Washington makes triple-pane windows, so these came from Colorado. Other special materials in use include what you’ll see on the outside of the Neighborhood Center:

That material’s many attributes includes the fact it’s graffiti-resistant – the organic compounds can’t permeate it. Inside the building, you will see art in many places, much of it celebrating the natural world, such as the life cycle of salmon. This corridor opening to the west side of the building is one place where the walls will be decorated:

The main entryway is at the southwest corner of the building, 35th/Lanham:

One wall nearby will display the awards the HP development has won, Li said; another area will be inset with the “hope stones” that were part of last fall’s groundbreaking ceremony, each inscribed with attendees’ hopes for the project — this video from August shows attendees leaving them as the event ended:

Fast forward ahead to the current time: Li says some of the artists working on the project have been working with students, too, so you will see art from all ages. There will be children in the building much of the time, too, in part because of Neighborhood House’s highly regarded Head Start programs (there will be play areas outside too, and for all ages, a basketball court by the parking lot on the north side). Other organizations will have offices in the building – those areas are just starting to take shape:

There will be meeting rooms, as well; organizations like the High Point Homeowners Association and Neighborhood Association are expected to be among those using them.

Back to those solar panels, which are to be installed on the roof starting in about a month. Li explained that the building won’t have a battery system – if it produces more power than it needs, that will go out into the grid, and they’re hoping that the excess power production will balance out any extra power that needs to be drawn from the grid when power needs exceed production. The $250,000 left to be raised for the project is viewed as 250 solar-panel sponsorships at $1,000 each; here’s how to find out about sponsoring one (or more). Also happening soon – they’ll be starting to train docents who will give tours of the building in half a dozen languages, with a focus on its environmental sensibilities. In the meantime, tours like the one on Wednesday, organized by HP resident Wendy Hughes-Jelen of Green Spaces Real Estate (in photo at left), can be arranged through Neighborhood House – otherwise, you’ll have to wait till fall to see the finished creation.

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