Delaware state building earns national recognition

Delaware state officials began the new year celebrating the national recognition of the Richardson & Robbins building in downtown Dover where the former cannery houses the state’s environmental department operations.

The facility has been certified by the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program, according to the Delaware State News.

The recognition, in the category of existing building operations and maintenance, is particularly significant because of the building’s age. Built as a cannery in 1881 by Alden Richardson and James Robbins, it has a storied past. It spent almost a century as a cannery, first under Richardson and Robbins and then under the William Underwood Co., until it was closed in 1976.

The state of Delaware purchased the building in 1979 — the same year it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places as part of the Victorian Dover Historic District.

In the 1980s, the building undrewent extensive renovations, but retained its tall arched windows, exterior brickwork and exposed ceiling beams. It has been serving as the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control’s main office since 1983.

With Gov. Jack Markell’s Executive Order 18 (in 2010), he asked state agencies to lead by example in working toward clean energy economy and increased sustainability for Delaware. The order set goals for reducing energy use, increasing recycling, promoting clean transportation and saving money while benefiting the environment.

In response to the order, DNREC began planning to build on some of the efficiency upgrades already under way and formed their LEED team in 2011 — headed up by the Division of Energy and Climate’s communities planner Bahareh van Boekhold.

Staff from seven DNREC divisions joined forces with the Office of Management and Budget’s Division of Facilities Management and Government Support Services to coordinate on the project.

Van Boekhold said the team focused first on low and no-cost measures to help bring the building in line with the certification parameters.

DNREC staff and partners implemented a series of energy efficiency and sustainability projects which have resulted in a 40 percent reduction in energy use, a 24 percent reduction in water use and a 117 percent increase in sustainable purchasing for the building.

With the upgrades, the building now has:

• Lower energy and water usage, resulting in utilities cost savings

• Sustainable purchasing and waste management practices

• Green no-irrigation landscaping with native species and restored habitat

• Integrated pest management and green cleaning practices

• Lower-impact employee commuting supported by preferred parking for “green” cars and carpool vehicles

• Improved work environment for the health and comfort of employees through indoor air quality monitoring and reduced exposure to hazardous chemicals.

The Richardson & Robbins building now is among about 50 LEED-certified buildings in the state, van Boekhold said. However, many were designed and constructed with the intention of being highly sustainable and energy efficient where the DNREC building was retrofitted. Because of this, it’s unique in its class.

“It is the first state-owned building and one of only three buildings in Delaware to achieve this specific LEED certification,” she said.

“This was one of the hardest buildings to get certified because of its unique challenges in being an old building. But if we did it, other state buildings can do it too. There is a chance for all building to improve their sustainability and performance.”

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