Waste Not, Want Not: Innovative approaches to wastewater reuse puts LOTT in an energy-efficiency class of its own.
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Most of us experience water in a limited way when it magically arrives into our kitchens and bathrooms. Unknown to us is the journey it follows from its sources to the buildings we occupy. After we use it, water becomes wastewater and continues through a series of episodic, equally unknown stages. The LOTT Alliance Regional Services Center, an innovative wastewater treatment plant, seeks to make these invisible processes visible, while harvesting energy from the water-treatment process itself, and also educating the public to become active stewards of water conservation.
The nonprofit LOTT Clean Water Alliance in Washington’s capital city Olympia created this new facility to treat wastewater for the more than 85,000 residents living in the communities of Lacey, Olympia, Turnwater, and Thurston county (together “LOTT”). The $13.5-million, 32,500-square-foot facility, designed by Miller Hull Partnership of Seattle, was completed in June 2010 and includes three components—7,700 square feet of renovated labs, a new 21,300-square-foot office building, and a new 3,500-square-foot education center. LEED-Platinum certified, the project serves as the cornerstone for a 14-acre development on the Port of Olympia’s East Bay, which will include a waterfront plaza, a hands-on children’s museum (in construction; also designed by Miller Hull Partnership), a hotel, shops, and restaurants. “Our continuing plans are to construct an outdoor educational park, with a water conservation theme, connecting our building to the new museum. We are creating a natural resource educational destination that will ensure that the next generation has a greater appreciation for the benefits of conservation and reclaimed water reuse,” says LOTT executive director Michael D. Strub.
The project uses Class A reclaimed water—approved for all uses except drinking—as both an amenity and symbol. Putting water front and center to convey this message, the design team created a plaza with a pond spanned by bridges that visitors walk over to enter the building. A 10-foot-tall stainless-steel sculpture looks like a tilted cup sitting in the water. “It is a metaphor of a spring and celebrates the notion of the cleansed water through sound and flow,” explains landscape architect Scott Murase of Murase Associates. The pond continues on the south side “in a sinuous flow enveloping the building on the perimeter,” he describes, creating the illusion that LOTT floats on water. Plants and interpretive displays line the sidewalks further emphasizing the educational theme. “The underlying idea was to create a reflective and timeless atmosphere in a simple way that integrates with the architecture,” says Murase.
The main entrance brings visitors to a reception area that opens on the left, west-facing side to the four-story office tower (the top story consists of green roofs and terraces). On the entry’s right is the interpretative education center, called WET (Water Education and Technology Center). Behind these areas are a classroom, a boardroom, and beyond these the renovated offices and labs. WET’s interactive exhibits serve as educational tools for all ages, cleverly illustrating the science and practicalities of water conservation and treatment.
Suited to its function, the overall design theme is finely articulated industrial. This is evident on each side of the building’s spare but handsome metal facades, which have been shaded differently to mitigate solar heat-gain throughout the day. Visitors enter on the west, often the most challenging side to control. Here motorized louvers, automated by a roof-mounted, real-time sun sensor, adjust to the light incrementally, changing appearance throughout the day. “Tiny low-energy LEDs illuminate the salvaged wood used in the partitions between offices, creating a rich warm glow, which gives the building transparency at night without the energy expenditure of exterior lighting,” explains Robert Hull, a Miller Hull partner. Once inside, the industrial tone continues with more timber, much of which has been reclaimed from a nearby demolished warehouse. The warm tones juxtapose with sleek polished concrete floors and modern furnishings that include significant recycled content and low or no VOCs. “Interiors sought to incorporate natural materials like wood, cork, and glass to balance the building’s industrial look. To support the targeted LEED-Platinum certification, many cradle-to-cradle furniture components were used,” explains interior designer Marisa Mangum.
Daylighting strategies were enhanced by the 30-foot rule. Common in Europe, the rule requires that all interior spaces be sited less than 30 feet from exterior glazing for light penetration. “By keeping the floor plate purposefully thin we minimized the electrical load on lighting, a big component of the total load in a high-performance building,” Hull explains. Glass partitions between offices contribute to create extraordinary brightness in the interiors.
Perhaps the biggest gesture of the project is the use of methane from wastewater to help heat, cool, and power the facility. Next door sits a cogen plant, handled as a separate contract with PAE Consulting Engineers. “Our firm did the commissioning of the system, since we understood the low/high temperature loops and the new building’s heating and cooling loads. That led to the heat from the cogen system being used in both the LOTT building and proposed to be used in the adjacent children’s museum,” explains Paul Schwer, PAE’s president.
Methane from the treatment process provides heat and power for LOTT through the cogen plant with a 335kW gas turbine engine. In addition to providing steam, hot water, and electricity, the plant reduced carbon dioxide emissions of the facility by 1,145 tons per year, which reflects a 35 percent carbon reduction. LOTT takes advantage of available resources for the building’s mechanical and domestic hot water systems as well, using the cogen plant’s existing low temperature water loop.
Together, these systems allowed LOTT to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 35 percent and energy use by 42 percent as compared to ASHRAE 90.1-2004 without credit for the cogen heat. It is 47 percent more efficient when compared to a CBECS database typical building. “If we include the heat contribution from the cogen plant, the building would be 61 percent more efficient than ASHRAE 90.1-2004. In addition, a fully powered dedicated 100 percent outside air ventilation system recovers heat from the exhaust air to temper incoming ventilation air,” explains Schwer. Combined, these interventions create a highly efficient building which LOTT communications manager Lisa Dennis-Perez describes as “nearly off the grid.”
Class A reclaimed water is wastewater that has been treated to tertiary standards, through sand filter or membrane bioreactor technologies. It is used for plumbing within the building, supplies water to the pond, irrigates the grounds, and the green roof. In addition “LOTT distributes Class A reclaimed water to local water utilities who then provide it to their end users at a cost of $0.70 on the dollar when compared to potable water, establishing a clear economic and environmental benefit. We love that story,” says Scott Wolf of Miller Hull Partnership.
Since the overall site is under construction, it is hard to see whether the project accomplishes the urbanist goals it has set out for itself—described earlier by LOTT’s executive director—but it certainly challenges convention about industrial facilities. “Most plants put up walls, keep smells out, and are introverted, but this one is part of the city fabric. The perimeter is inviting and teaches the community on the benefits of what they do,” concludes Wolf.