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LWR home to cutting-edge green building

Leading-edge green technology can be subtle and clever. It can be retro and revolutionary. And it can be all that at the same time.

Take the corporate headquarters of Willis A. Smith Construction, Inc., for instance.

President David Sessions, Vice President John LaCivita and their team took some very old concepts and made them new again at 5001 Lakewood Ranch Blvd., in the Corporate Park south of University Parkway.

A centerpiece of the 18,000-square-foot building, a pair of 3,000-gallon underground cisterns, are nowhere to be seen. They use a concept that’s been around thousands of years. Rainwater is collected from the roof and funneled to the cisterns. One inch of rainfall supplies enough water to flush every commode and urinal in the building for two months.

Another old concept was to take what has always grown in Florida, native plants, and use them to landscape the grounds of the 2.5-acre property. The grounds look so much like a garden that visitors may not even notice there is no lush, green lawn. The savings on fertilizer and water are substantial.

There’s one more subtle outside touch that shows the company’s commitment to green living. The best parking spots are reserved for those who bike to work, car pool or drive a fuel-efficient vehicle.

Inside, there’s plenty of modern science at work.

Go no further than the reception desk and the eye is drawn to an information plate that urges the visitor to “breathe easy.” The plate goes on to explain that the cabinets and composite wood products emit no dangerous gases. Many other information plates are posted throughout the building, pointing out other features.

Recycled materials are widely used, including in the carpet, drywall and even the furniture. Under each desk are two containers, one for recyclables and another for everything else. Each staff member has attended a class on recycling.

Other features include zoned air conditioning, so that one relatively small area can be cooled, rather than the entire building; motion detectors that switch off lights in rooms where no movement is detected; foam insulation in the walls; energy efficient lights; and more. Photovoltaic panels will be installed to generate a portion of the electricity for the building.

When company officials originally decided to relocate from Sarasota to Lakewood Ranch five years ago, the convenience of the Interstate 75 corridor was a deciding factor.

But after the company built the green headquarters of Schroeder-Manatee Ranch, the developer of Lakewood Ranch, it decided to embrace green technology, too, given the growing concern about sustainable development.

Sessions quotes Willis vice president Warren Simonds in talking about green technology: “It’s not a wave, it’s a tsunami.”

The Willis team built in all the green technology it could think of and then adjusted their plans as they proceeded on the $2.7-million project.

“As a result, this became a large green experiment,” Sessions said.

The team sought to incorporate water conservation, energy efficiency, a healthy working interior and environmental protection.

The building meets the standards of Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), a rating system developed by the U.S. Green Building Council. Company officials are seeking LEED Gold Certification, an even higher green rating.

Willis officials learned as they went along, lessons they believe will benefit their clients.

Sessions and LaCivita estimate that it cost them about 7 percent more to build using green technology. In retrospect, they say they could probably have done the job for only about 4 percent more.

“That’s part of the learning curve,” Sessions said.

They expect the green technology will produce big savings on water and energy bills.

Since opening the facility, Willis officials have given more than 100 tours to local government and business leaders.

For more information, call (941) 366-3116 or visit www.willissmith.com.

James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee editor, can be contacted at 708-7916.

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