San Francisco Public Utilities Commission’s unlikely green building taking shape 

In 2002, you could have called it a building destined to never happen.

But you wouldn’t have known it Wednesday when public officials held a topping-out ceremony to hail the approaching completion of an office building they called The City’s greenest, the future home of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission.

The City acquired the site at Polk Street and Golden Gate Avenue more than a decade ago, as a vacant building irreparably damaged by the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake.

Work on the building stalled during the dot-com bust, but the project was revived in 2006 with plans to move more than 900 workers there from the SFPUC’s current building on Van Ness Avenue. The recession halted progress again in 2008.

But now the 13-floor building being touted for its sustainability should house workers by next summer.

Although the project was a favorite of former Mayor Gavin Newsom, a contractor said Newsom had doubts about The City taking on such a project in troubled economic times.

"This building almost didn’t happen," Webcor CEO Andy Ball said. "He said, ‘I don’t think we can afford it,’ and I said, ‘Mayor, you can’t afford not to.’"

The cost to build the project is estimated at $140 million, but the bill rises to $205 million once design services and things such as furniture are added to the mix. Planners had estimated the cost at $190 million.

The 227,500-square-foot LEED Platinum structure includes built-in wind turbines and solar panels, and designers predict it will consume 55 percent less energy than an average California building.

That’s expected to save The City $118 million over 75 years.

SFPUC General Manager Ed Harrington said some plans were scaled back to meet budget once the project came into his department’s hands.

Wind turbines were dropped from the building’s roof due to a lack of wind, although other turbines are still planned for the middle of the structure.

Plans to make all the windows double pane as solar panels also were scrapped.

Along with the California Academy of Sciences building and the future Exploratorium museum, Harrington said the SFPUC’s new headquarters will be one of the greenest buildings in San Francisco. And with bold features such as glass walls, it’s rather neat too, he said.

"If you can get up high enough, you can see through the whole building," Harrington said.


What makes it green

SFPUC’s new headquarters is close to public transit and includes only four parking spaces, discouraging auto traffic. Other features:

  • Bike parking, e-vehicle charging
  • Wind turbines, solar panels
  • Toilets conserve 750,000 gallons a year
  • Conserves another 900,000 gallons of water for nonpotable use in Civic Center
  • 75 percent of concrete made with recycled materials
  • Uses local building materials
  • Harvests sunlight to reduce artificial lighting
  • Sewage treatment on site
  • Harvests rainwater for irrigation

Source: SFPUC

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