Washington’s Helen Sommers Building certified LEED platinum

Newest addition to Capitol Campus conserves electricity and water, reduces carbon emissions

The Helen Sommers Building on the state’s Capitol Campus in Olympia has earned LEED Platinum certification, a global recognition for sustainability. (Benjamin Benschneider photo)

The Capitol Campus has gone double platinum.

The new Helen Sommers Building on the state Capitol Campus has gained LEED Platinum certification — the highest ranking possible — from the U.S. Green Building Council. It is the first state-owned building on the campus to gain LEED certification and the campus’ second building overall to achieve the platinum designation.

Buildings with Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification are healthier, more productive places that reduce stress on the environment because they are energy and resource-efficient. Platinum is the highest of four levels of certification, and LEED certification is a globally recognized symbol of sustainability achievement.

The Helen Sommers Building embodies the vision for sustainability on the campus. It was designed to be within the top 1 percent of office buildings nationwide in energy efficiency.

“This building exemplifies the types of innovation we want in Washington state — those that lead to more green jobs and less carbon pollution,” Gov. Jay Inslee said. “It is in the best interest of our state to take sustainability seriously, and at the state’s capitol, we have a special responsibility to lead by example.”

Clean energy focus

The Helen Sommers Building is constructed with solar panels, geothermal wells that draw heat from the earth, sustainable landscaping and smart systems that conserve water and energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Smart features in building systems provide the ability to reduce wasted energy through real-time data analysis, and to monitor building performance. To date, building systems are meeting performance objectives.

The building emits 71.4 percent less carbon dioxide than the average office building — equivalent to taking 291 cars off the road for a year or eliminating electricity use from 204 homes for a year.

More than 10 percent of the building’s energy is from renewable solar power. That equals reducing emissions from more than 5,000 home-barbecue propane tanks or enough energy to power over 13 average American homes for a year.

Highly efficient LED lighting systems eliminate carbon dioxide emissions equal to burning 141,988 pounds of coal annually — enough to power over 19 average American homes for a year.

Water systems will save 828,310 gallons a year — enough water to provide for a four-person household for more than six years.

A time lapse video of the building’s construction. (Washington State Department of Enterprise Services)

Green economy, accountable government

From the building’s solar panels to its brick and steel, it is clear that “made in Washington” was a project priority for the design-build team of Sellen Construction and ZGF Architects; 88 cents of every dollar was invested in Washington labor and materials. That’s $68 million supporting the Washington economy.

The project also provided opportunities for many Washington businesses to advance sustainable products, from lower-carbon concrete mixes to skylights that reduce the need for interior lighting — an example of Washingtonians using innovation, creativity and technological to support a clean energy economy.

“As a state office building, we wanted the new facility to be a reflection of Washington materials, businesses, workers and technology,” said Victoria Buker, senior project manager for Sellen Construction. “Our team’s ‘Made in Washington’ mindset was not only about advancing our clean energy economy but also about investing in the people and industries of our state.”

The Helen Sommers Building on the Capitol Campus in Olympia uses rooftop solar panels as a source of energy. The building emits 71.4 percent less carbon dioxide than the average office building. (Benjamin Benschneider photo)

The Helen Sommers Building is expected to save the state more than $100 million over its lifetime, according to a 2015 life-cycle cost estimate by the Office of Financial Management. A building’s typical life span is 50 years, though many stay in use longer than that.

The new building even comes with a guarantee in the form of a performance agreement with the design-builder.

LEED certification provides independent verification of a building’s green features from the Green Building Council. The council examines a building’s design, construction, operations and maintenance to verify that buildings are resource-efficient, high performing, healthy and cost-effective.

In 2014, the 1500 Jefferson Building on the state’s East Campus, occupied under a lease-purchase agreement, also gained LEED Platinum certification. That building was constructed in 2011.

Inslee has made clean energy, environmental stewardship and sustainability a top priority during his time as governor, taking strong action toward reducing carbon pollution and growing the economy. Under his leadership, Washington has joined a multi-state alliance committed to the Paris climate agreement, made an aggressive effort to promote electric vehicles, invested in clean energy technology through the Clean Energy Fund and joined with the Pacific Coast Collaborative to grow the West Coast’s clean energy economy.

Rep. Helen Sommers served in the state Legislature for 36 years. She died in 2017.

An interior view of the Helen Sommers Building in Olympia. (Benjamin Benschneider photo)