Skip to main content

Winstead Says GSA Focused on Preservation, Sustainability

As prepared for delivery

Remarks by
 David Winstead
PBS Commissioner
U.S. General Services Administration
Colorado Preservation's Annual Conference
Denver, Colorado
February 8, 2008

Thank you Barbara for the opportunity to join you and to participate in this important and relevant session on preservation and sustainability.   They are not themes everybody sees as complementary but, as has been already highlighted this morning, they should be.  It is certainly how we see things at GSA.  More about that in a moment.  Before I begin I would like to acknowledge our federal partners attending the conference—The Honorable Lynn Scarlett, Deputy Secretary of the Department of Interior, and Susan Barnes, Vice Chair of the Advisory Council for Historic Preservation.  GSA works closely with these two federal agencies with a common goal of being good stewards and educating the public about the importance of these jewels in our portfolio.  

Getting to the topic at hand, I would like to share a few background facts.  As was noted in the introduction, I lead an organization—GSA’s Public Buildings Service—that serves as the civilian government’s “landlord,” responsible for the asset management and design, construction, leasing, operations, and disposal of a real estate portfolio of 352 million square feet in over 8,600 public and private buildings in 2,200 communities across the nation.  Currently, we have over 200 major projects underway at a value of $12 billion, with an annual total budget of about $8 billion. As steward for these resources, our objectives are to provide outstanding quality to our agency customers at good economies to the American taxpayer.

Historic buildings hold a special place in this mission: 

  • 243 buildings in our owned-inventory are listed on the national register;
  • 64 are national historic landmarks;
  • in addition, we lease more than 2.7 million square feet of space in about 50 historic buildings.

These are a proud architectural legacy, some of our most renowned and distinguished buildings, including the Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House at Bowling Green, in Lower Manhattan that just celebrated its centennial; the U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco; and the Beautiful Byron White U.S. Courthouse, here in Denver.  They are symbols of our democracy and home to its institutions.  Most significantly for this morning’s dialogue, they represent an essential resource in fulfilling our sustainable design agenda.

Overall, GSA is fully committed to leadership in the design, construction and operation of high-performance, sustainable federal buildings.  In 2001, we were the first federal agency to join the U.S. Green Building Council and now require the Council’s LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification for all major capital projects. 

Importantly, we are meeting this mandate in work with our historic structures.  Fourteen of our projects in Historic Buildings currently are working toward LEED certification.  Two historic buildings are already LEED certified—The Howard Metzenbaum U.S. Courthouse in Cleveland, Ohio, and the GSA-leased historic Scowcroft Building in Ogden, Utah; which received a silver rating. 

In 1999, a GSA study found that utility costs were 27 percent lower in historic buildings than in the rest of our inventory.  Large windows and high ceilings facilitated daylighting and air flow, and thick masonry walls helped conserve energy.  It was this type of analysis that strengthened our thinking regarding the link between sustainability and the preservation of our legacy buildings. 

Sustainability is about integrated design, about optimizing energy performance, about conserving and reusing resources, about enhancing environmental quality, and about reducing the environmental impact of materials.  From this perspective, it became clear to us that preservation and our approach to historic buildings should be viewed as inherently sustainable.  The two go hand-in-hand. 

Preservation and adaptive reuse take advantage of existing infrastructure.  They reduce the need for new materials and the energy required to manufacture those materials.  They dramatically minimize the waste and vast amounts of discarded energy associated with tearing down buildings.  And when addressed sensitively and creatively, they generate workplaces that the public and employees find inspiring.  Philosophically and as a key long-term strategy, in a soon-to-be published PBS book called sustainability matters, we make the case that “preservation of our existing buildings is arguably the greenest alternative of all.”

One of the buildings I mentioned earlier, the beautiful 1910 Beaux Arts Metzenbaum Courthouse in Cleveland suggests the compelling realities of this theory: 

  • It revitalizes an urban landmark and site; 
  • It is public-transport accessible; 
  • It reuses 97 percent of the original structure and shell; 
  • Fifty-five percent of demolition and construction debris was diverted from landfill disposal;
  • Twenty five percent of materials were manufactured regionally;
  • Water consumption was reduced by 32 percent;
  • A five-level courtyard was redeveloped as a functional space, carefully integrating contemporary details to complement the original architecture;
  • And a new skylight over the courtyard volume reduces energy use.

What the statistics don’t convey is the human side of this sustainability story.  “Jurisprudence” and “Commerce,” sculptures by the famed Daniel Chester French, greet those who enter the building.  The expansive “Mail Delivery” mural series by Francis Davis Millet has been restored and re-installed.  The grand district courtroom has been brought back to its former glory.  And historic hardware, grills, wood doors, glazed brick, marble, and plasterwork once again grace the interior.  In case you can’t tell, we are particularly proud of this project.

We are also proud of another, very different preservation/sustainable design undertaking in your own backyard—the modernization of the Byron G. Rogers U.S. Courthouse here in Denver.  This structure is among our inventory of classic modern designs that are soon to be eligible for nomination to the national register.

For the Rogers Courthouse, we determined maintaining the integrity of the building’s design was a “must.”  At the same time, we implemented a major renovation that earned the project a gold rating under the LEED for existing buildings rating system.  Again, a few statistics:

  • The building is well served by public transportation and 50 percent of the parking is underground;
  • Fifty-three percent of the open areas are vegetated;
  • The performance of the building systems have an energy star rating of 87;
  • And, as part of our ongoing services, a range of recycling and green housekeeping policies have been implemented.

Although from a very different era, like the Metzenbaum project, this landmark is a clear demonstration that the preservation and continued use of public buildings and sustainability principles can be successfully integrated.  GSA, design professionals from the region, Denver citizens and those working in the building have a new appreciation and respect for the courthouse, and we have saved vital resources and extended the life of a critical structure in the city’s downtown federal district.

We feel these two projects are noteworthy models.  But we also see them as just part of a much broader initiative. 

In January 2006, GSA and other federal agencies signed a memorandum of understanding underscoring sustainability as fundamental to the evaluation and development of all our facilities.  In January 2007, the MOU was incorporated into Executive Order 13423 – Strengthening Federal Environmental, Energy, and Transportation Management.

In another effort, we sit on the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Sustainable Preservation Coalition as it works to refine LEED metrics to better reflect the contribution preservation makes to sustainability.  This includes an emphasis on the life cycle impact of design decisions and the weighting of LEED credits.

As chair of the Historic Preservation Subcommittee of the High Performance Building Council, we are advocating:

  • The establishment of a link between sustainability and cultural value by encouraging processes that reward reinvestment in historic buildings over existing non-historic building;
  • And the necessity of a big picture view that brings together urban and historic city center location goals with green building practices.

Within GSA, we have implemented a training course in both historic preservation and sustainable design which outlines and provides case examples of the benefits of both programs.  

Under the new Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, GSA is required to establish an Office of Federal High Performance Green Buildings later this month.  This office will coordinate energy efficiency and sustainable design across the federal government, and will certainly make the case for linking sustainability and historic buildings.

Finally, we continue to sponsor an ongoing conversation about sustainability and preservation.  This April in Seattle, GSA will participate in a workshop which includes a charrette focused on an actual building project.  In June in New York City, we are planning, organizing and hosting a sustainability and historic preservation symposium.  And we will continue to serve as a co-sponsor with the National Trust for Historic Preservation of their national conference to be held in the Twin Cities this fall.

I hope this gives you an overview of our approach to sustainability and the preservation of public buildings.  Being good stewards to our legacy buildings and making them sustainable are among our high priorities and one where we feel we can offer leadership and insight.

Thank you for your time and interest. I would be happy to answer any questions.