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Renovations earn architects' office an LEED Gold rating

When RossTarrant Architects moved to its new offices at East Main Street and Old Lafayette Avenue about two years ago, it inherited a problem. Water was accumulating in the basement of the 1950s-era commercial structure. The source? A natural underground spring.

What would have been a headache for the average business, however, became a golden eco- opportunity for the architectural firm.

Well versed in the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Environmental and Energy Design, or LEED, principles, the staff began looking for a solution, which contributed to RossTarrant earning a LEED Gold certification this month for the building's renovation.

The methods were practical and creative: After double-checking with Kentucky American Water and having a private firm test the water, the business installed four 250- gallon storage tanks, hooked them to an automatic watering system, and used the water to irrigate its landscaping.

Concerned that neighbors would assume that the business was ignoring watering restrictions during last year's drought, president Martha Tarrant sent a letter to the Aylesford Park Neighborhood Association. In it, she said, "as part of our efforts to create an environmentally sustainable workplace, we have installed a very unique irrigation system." Because the system was not using the municipal water supply, the restrictions didn't apply.

This summer, wetter conditions have created a different concern. "Our only problem with the rain is that we get some really funny looks when people see our sprinklers running during a storm. Most people don't realize we have a system that has to be on a timer to perform as it should," architect and quality control manager Debra Shockley said via e-mail.

RossTarrant, which specializes in designing spaces for schools, also has used water conservation ideas in some of its plans for school clients.

"Our experience with this system has inspired us to work even harder to include water catchment systems in our projects," Shockley said. "While we've always incorporated sustainable water management practices in our projects, rainwater harvesting is a great way to really take it to the next level. For example, we've just begun construction on a new middle school in Owen County that will feature a large water catchment system that will provide all the water needed to irrigate its green roof."

In working toward LEED certification in renovating the Main Street building, RossTarrant Architects has incorporated other water- related "green" ideas: solar panels that provide water-heating energy, a shower for employees who ride bicycles to work, and low-flush toilets and automatic shut-off sinks to reduce water use.

In addition, the firm has prioritized bringing natural light to work stations, just as it does in its school plans. Shockley cited the 1999 Heschong Mahone Group's daylighting and human performance project, which has correlated an improvement in student test scores to classroom settings illuminated by natural light. To take advantage of that idea in the RossTarrant offices, 90 percent of the regularly occupied work stations have direct window views, with shades that are controlled automatically to let in an optimal amount of light at various times of day while optimizing energy efficiency; sensors turn off any unused lights.

As part of the interior ceiling light system, special Solatube skylights — tubes that transmit sunlight gathered from the rooftops — were installed.

LEED certification requires a constellation of eco-friendly practices that support a healthy environment. Architect Dan Colvin listed a few, including using recycled beams and using building materials free of unhealthy volatile organic compounds such as formaldehyde, for the highest indoor air quality possible.

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