Sierra Club Members Tour Johnson County Sunset Drive “Green” Office Building

Last year the Kanza Group of the Sierra Club recognized The Johnson County Commission, with Annabeth Surbaugh as Chair, and the Johnson County Environmental Department for their commitment to sustainable principles.  They not only talk the talk, they walk the walk.  The new SunsetDriveOfficeBuilding in Olathe, KS has won a multitude of awards for its design and operation as an innovative and sustainable-focused government building.  “Only the second building in the State of Kansas to receive a LEED® [Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design] Gold Certification from the United States Green Building Council, the Sunset Drive Facility is a high-performance office building that is designed to be very efficient to own and operate”.

Cindy Kemper, Sierra Club member and head of the Environmental Department, gave Sierra Club members from both Missouri and Kansas a tour of the facility on March 8th.  The building is designed to fit the site, to take advantage of natural light and will be landscaped with local plants.  The first thing that catches your eye when you enter is the large cistern which stores rainwater captured from the roof.  The water flows through the bio-garden in the lobby before being released to the outdoors.  The parking lot is also designed specifically to minimize run off and direct the water to earth surfaces where it can be absorbed.

Many of the materials used to construct the building are recycled.  Reclaimed wood is featured both inside and outside the building; the terrazzo floor in the lobby contains recycled glass and is designed to need a minimum of cleaning chemicals; the handsome carpet is squares of recycled pop bottles.  Most inside walls are flexible which allows for reconfiguration of space when needed without the need to tear down permanent walls.  The wiring is in the floor rather than ceiling, which also allows more efficient modification.  And the building captures so much natural light that one department on the east has had to cover a few of the windows in the morning.

The SunsetDriveOfficeBuilding houses the Appraiser’s Office, Environmental Department, Extension Office, human Services and Aging, Med-Act, Johnson County Wastewater and the Water Quality Laboratory.  There are several conference rooms and an employee break room that have receptacles for recycling of glass, paper and cans.

Ms. Kemper explained that Commission is committed to principles of sustainability and environmental stewardship; however, the primary motivation for this building was saving money.  Many of the departments were previously in leased space which was not large enough so the new building eliminates rental expense.  And, she said, although it cost slightly more to build, the many efficiency features have produced 43% greater energy savings and the County will reach the pay back level in a relatively short time.  County staff is also conducting a study on productivity – they expect to find employees like their workplace so much that they seldom take sick time.  And they may be healthier anyway since they can ride a bike and shower at work as well as breathe cleaner inside air which has been purified with HEPA filters and does not contain any volatile compounds because only low emitting paints and materials were used.

The building features a Native American Proverb:  “We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children” and is intended to serve as an educational opportunity for the public.  The building has a mission of extending its story of environmental stewardship to the community and visitors through educational signage and printed material. The County encourages visitors to tour and experience the facility while learning about sustainable practices.

Ms. Kemper encouraged Sierra Club members on the tour to urge others to contact county staff and arrange for more tours of the SunsetDriveOfficeBuilding.  Members on the March 8th tour found it most enlightening and encouraging.

By Anne McDonald

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