Rackspace, Comcast Transform Old Buildings into New Green Quarters

Rackspace, Comcast Transform Old Buildings into New Green Quarters

For Rackspace, a vacant 1.2-million-square-foot '70s-era shopping mall in San Antonio wasn't a white elephant -- it was a setting fit for "The Castle," the nickname for the new green headquarters of the IT hosting and cloud computing company.

In a portion of a former tech company campus in Sonoma County, Calif., Comcast and real estate developer Codding Enterprises saw the potential for creating a "zero-carbon" operations center for the cable giant that generates no greenhouse gases from building energy.

Both projects were recently awarded certification under the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design rating and assessment standards. Rackspace earned LEED-Gold certification and Comcast attained LEED-Platinum certification, the highest ranking possible under the four-tiered green building rating system.
The firms celebrated their achievements this week, as did the state of California, which received LEED certification for the five buildings in its Franchise Tax Board campus in Sacramento. Four were awarded LEED-Gold status as existing buildings; the fifth structure, also an existing building, received LEED-Silver certification.

As green buildings, all the sites were designed to significantly reduce energy and water use compared to conventional structures of comparable size. They also use materials that are low in emissions, contribute to enhanced indoor air quality and contain recycled content. Materials- and product-sourcing as well as recycling and waste management played important roles during construction, and are the focus of robust ongoing programs at the sites.

However, planners for each project used different paths to pursue their green goals. Here's a look at some of the different environmental elements at the sites:

The Castle - Rackspace's New Headquarters

The Rackspace project, which used an approach in the building industry known as urban infill, was part of a major community redevelopment effort in San Antonio.

To achieve a LEED-Gold rating, the company's headquarters complex:

  • Incorporates energy efficient lighting systems that take advantage of abundant sunshine by using skylights and lighting that can be controlled at every workstation. The system includes motion sensors and timers.
  • Consumes 40 percent less water than non-green buildings of comparable size.
  • Features drought resistant landscaping with an irrigation system that uses only recycled water. The water is collected in a cistern located next to the main entrance.
  • Has low-flow fixtures and energy efficient hand-dryers in restrooms to reduce water consumption and use of paper products.
  • Includes showers to encourage employees to bike, walk or jog to work.

During construction, Rackspace removed and recycled more than 1,600 tons of steel and other metals from the former shopping center. More than 1,900 tons of concrete, metal, wood and other materials also were recycled. And six trailer-loads of recovered, reusable building materials -- doors, windows and fixtures -- were sent to Habitat for Humanity.

Rackspace has completed two phases of renovation at the site and built out more than 230,000 square feet -- just under 20 percent -- of the available square footage.

"As our business growth dictates we will continue to develop the entire campus into our global headquarters and the tech epicenter of San Antonio," said Rackspace Director of Real Estate Randy Smith.

Images on this page courtesy of Rackspace.

Comcast's Zero-Carbon Operations Center

Comcast's new operations center in the northern portion of the San Francisco Bay Area is part of an innovative community redevelopment project called Sonoma Mountain Village -- Codding Enterprises's vision of a sustainable live-work community on a 200-acre site that once housed an Agilent Technology campus.

The single-story Comcast operations center occupies 35,000 square feet of the former 700,000-square-foot tech campus and is hooked up to a 1-megawatt solar array at Sonoma Mountain Village. The system supplies 100 percent of the power used by the center, enabling its operators to say the facility generates no greenhouse gases from energy.

The cable company's site also uses just 46 percent of the water typically consumed by a similarly sized new, non-green office building as a result of measures taken by Codding, which managed and built the project.

Other major green elements of the facility include:

  • An irrigation system that uses only reclaimed water.
  • Advanced lighting and controls that use 35 percent less energy.
  • Highly efficient heating and cooling with a central plant that uses special economizers.
  • Climate-friendly refrigerants in the cooling system.
  • Advanced testing and verification of lighting and HVAC systems.
  • Enhanced indoor air quality that's supported by an advanced air filtration system providing 30 percent more fresh air than is typically found in conventional office buildings.
  • Green cleaning practices.
  • BIke storage, showers and changing rooms for employees.

All but 2 percent of construction waste was recycled in building the operations center.

One-hundred-fifty people work in the Comcast facility (housed in the building with the roof-top solar array, pictured right), which is home base for maintenance technicians and field service representatives who install and repair advanced digital video, high-speed Internet and telephone communications systems in the North Bay Area, said Melissa Anderson, a Comcast spokesperson.

The center includes space for warehousing equipment, supplies and technical support vehicles, she said.

"We are so excited and honored to be part of this development," Anderson said.

Comcast is among the 41 companies that have become Sonoma Mountain Village tenants in the first phase of the project.

Codding designed the development as model for sustainable living. It is the only project of its kind in North America to be recognized by One Planet Communities, an international group fostering a network of the world's greenest neighborhoods.

When it is complete, Sonoma Mountain Village is to be powered entirely by renewable energy and include 1,694 homes as well as  restaurants, daycare, other amenities and a business park -- all within easy walking distance.

Green Buildings in the Golden State's Capital

The five buildings that make up the California Franchise Tax Board campus encompass almost 2 million square feet of office space and other work facilities for more than 5,000 state employees.

Efficiency measures at the site save the state about $35,000 a year in operating costs. Those features include:

  • Energy efficient lighting systems with automatic controls that adjust interior lighting based on available natural light.
  • In addition to daylighting, insulation, screens and sunshades and double-pane window glazing that reduce the amount of energy used for heating and cooling.
  • White roofing that reflects heat and further reduces the need for energy to cool the building.
  • Bioswales in parking lots to filter pollutants from storm water runoff, reduce erosion and slow the flow of runoff to the sewer system.

The renovation and retrofitting of the buildings are part of California's drive to green existing state structures and build new ones that consume less energy and water, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and produce less waste. Launched by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2004, the Green Building Initiative calls for the state to reduce grid-based energy usage in its buildings by 20 percent by 2015.

Inset images on this page courtesy of Comcast.