City project manager works to incorporate environmentally friendly initiatives into public buildings
For Paul Miller, Mayor R.T. Rybak's goal of making Minneapolis the most sustainable city in the nation is more than just a vision.
As a project manager in the city's Public Works department, Miller has worked for years to incorporate environmentally friendly and energy-saving measures into each project plan that comes across his desk. The initiatives Miller and other managers help generate are a crucial part of the city's drive to become more sustainable.
And he enjoys the challenge of balancing growth and development with the need to preserve natural resources and the quality of life for future generations.
“It's a lot of brainstorming within our office,” said Miller, who works with a small group of project engineers to plan the construction and renovation of city buildings.
The creative thinking in the Public Works department has paid off, resulting in initiatives ranging from the solar panels at Fire Station 6 to a roof garden at Fire Station 14 to a bench made from recycled money at the Police Department's newly remodeled 3rd Precinct.
It also has resulted in an Animal Care and Control facility that sets the standard for sustainable city buildings by incorporating a variety of techniques and tools that make it extremely energy-efficient and low-maintenance.
“We really wanted to use the animal shelter as a project to try a bunch of different things out, and we're constantly monitoring that facility just to kind of gauge where we're going,” Miller said.
The facility was completed in 2004, and among its most important sustainable elements was strategic space planning. Project managers challenged employees to consider how they could expand and offer more services but reduce the size of the building. By thoroughly utilizing every square foot of space in the new building, the facility is three times larger than the former building but is nonetheless smaller than what executives initially requested - saving $500,000 on construction and untold more in long-term energy costs.
All of the sustainable projects must reap similar savings before Miller and his colleagues will proceed: Each initiative they use has to earn or generate enough savings within 10 years to make up for the cost of its implementation.
“That strategic space planning is kind of No. 1 on the list of sustainable design initiatives there,” Miller said.
The animal control facility also features Minneapolis' first large-scale use of a pervious-pavement parking lot. The lot allows rainwater to seep through the surface and into the soil, which greatly reduces the cost of stormwater drainage systems and prevents polluted runoff from going into area lakes and rivers.
And the sustainable design initiatives don't stop there. Other features in the building include an energy recovery system that reduces the extent to which air in the building needs to be heated or cooled and a direct digital control system that monitors and adjusts the temperature in the building.
“That is huge when it comes to energy savings in that building,” Miller said.
The city also worked with Xcel Energy, following the energy company's suggestions on ways to conserve power in the new facility. In return, the city received roughly $23,000 in energy rebates.
While those savings were big, Miller and his group also implemented small strategies that had big results. Walls are painted in bright colors to capture as much natural light as possible and light switches are motion-activated to reduce the amount of time lights are on. The small things might not be as noticeable, but they can make a big difference, Miller said: “It isn't just the big solar panels. There are a lot of little things that really add up to make sense.”
This approach has the added benefit of making innovation matter-of-fact.
“Some of the greenest strategies we've had have been on buildings that are traditional buildings for a city - a police station or an animal control facility can be a very green building,” Rybak said.
While the mayor and City Council are just beginning to focus on sustainability initiatives, Miller has been working to incorporate them into city facilities since he began as a project manager in 2000. The city's other project managers, too, long have looked to resources such as the Minnesota Sustainable Design Guide and the Green Institute to ensure city buildings are as environmentally friendly as possible.
“Without any direct initiative behind us, we've all kind of taken this on,” Miller said.
“We don't want to do green things for green's sake - we want to do green things because they make sense,” Miller said. “And I think we've been really successful.”