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Capital Business
Posted at 02:11 PM ET, 11/04/2011

GSA’s grand green building experiment is cut short

If you’ve seen Bob Peck at a real estate conference, industry event or even a cocktail party in the past year, you probably heard how excited he was to show the world just how smart and efficient government could be at managing real estate.

Peck, in his second stint as head of the Public Buildings Service at the General Services Administration, wanted to see the GSA topple all the long-held (and mostly true) criticisms of government office buildings. That they are dull and block-like. That they are too focused on security to have retail on the ground floor. That they leak heat in the winter and cool air in the summer. That they rely on too much taxpayer-funded fat in general: empty desks, half-filled rooms, poorly arranged floor layouts.

Peck had the perfect project to demonstrate how the government could turn all these problems on their head: renovation of the GSA’s own headquarters building, at 1800 F Street NW.

Last year the GSA awarded a joint venture between Whiting-Turner and Walsh Construction a $124 million contract to pull out all the building’s heating, cooling and electrical systems in favor of highly efficient replacement systems capable of recapturing condensation from cooling units and using 800 solar power panels to provide hot water, producing long-term energy savings.

Existing offices in the 94-year-old limestone building would be replaced with open layouts that maximized space and sunlight. Instead of having a desk for each employee regardless if they were out sick, traveling or working remotely, the renovated building would have “touch-down” spaces where people could drop by and work. Desks that employees would share based on when they really needed to be in the office. This “hoteling,” the GSA estimated, would allow it to cut in half the space needed per employee.

Finally, an additional 134,000 gross square feet of office space would be added to the building, which would have restaurants and retail in the ground floor. No longer would the federal government serve as a fortress on a lifeless block.

The changes would make GSA’s headquarters an “iconic national landmark of sustainable building design,” according to an agency press release. “It will showcase how GSA is using innovative technologies and alternative energy solutions to create high-performance green federal buildings all over the country.” Peck could press GSA’s private partners to replicate these practices in their own buildings.

The renovation and expansion would also allow the GSA to put twice as many people in the headquarters building, allowing it to close other leased facilities in the area and save more money.

Peck’s vision, however, is now on hold, another result of federal budget cutbacks. The GSA says it no longer has the money complete the project and will cut it short after the initial phase, return its employees to the building in early 2013 and go about their business.

By  |  02:11 PM ET, 11/04/2011

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