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Federal Government opens sustainable housing in Ajo

Ajo housing units
Newly constructed houses achieve LEED® Platinum.

The U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) recently celebrated the official opening of a 21-unit housing development in Ajo, Arizona. The purpose of this project was to address the immediate housing needs for critical Border Patrol and Field Operations personnel along the U.S. – Mexico border near the Lukeville Land Port of Entry and Ajo Station in Why, Arizona.

GSA is responsible for delivering the best value in real estate, acquisition and technology services to the government and the American people. The agency, often referred to as the Federal Government landlord, has real estate responsibilities that go far beyond just property management to include new construction, renovation, and modernization projects with a strong emphasis on developing high performance, sustainable facilities.

“This project is unique in that it greatly differs from the typical infrastructure projects GSA normally constructs,” said Ruth Cox, GSA’s Pacific Rim Regional Administrator. “Building these homes not only allows us to support CBP in meeting a broad range of their operational requirements, it also gives us an opportunity to positively affect the quality of life for their families.”

The Ajo housing development is part of a larger effort in which GSA, CBP and New York based architect, Garrison Architects, worked together to develop an award-winning housing prototype that could be replicated on the Northern and Southwestern borders with slight technical variations appropriate to the location. The resulting prototype design – which was developed after virtually disassembling and reassembling an entire house – concentrated on six key performance criteria:

  1. Rapidly Deployable
  2. Climate Appropriate
  3. Energy Efficient
  4. Durable/Locally Serviceable
  5. Well Designed
  6. Affordable

“The ultimate goal was to develop housing that would save tax dollars, be low maintenance, and achieve a high standard of durability, sustainability, and performance while addressing a housing shortage for CBP personnel in remote locations,” said Karl Calvo, Executive Director for the CBP Office of Administration’s Facilities, Management and Engineering Directorate.

Focusing on these six criteria allowed the team to achieve the highest performance house justifiable by the life cycle cost analysis. The design prototype leveraged architectural precedents, such as building orientation to take advantage of natural day lighting, without heat gain, and cross-ventilation with a well-insulated building envelope to allow for use of the most efficient equipment and systems. To this end, the new homes will use approximately 75 percent less energy than the existing units, meaning that tenants could save as much as $190 per month in utility costs.

Utilizing the Southwestern border prototype, Tucson-based architect, The Architect Company, modified the exterior of the housing design to adapt it to the local vernacular and harsh environment. They provided bridging documents to modify the design which allowed design-build general contractor Sundt Construction, Inc. out of Tempe, Arizona to build the homes using typical frame construction. Their extensive site design also included all of the grading, drainage, underground utilities, streets, sidewalks and street lighting for 46 homes (Phases 1 and 2).

Phase 1 consists of seventeen two bedroom/two bath units and four three bedroom/two bath units ranging from 1920 to 2208 gross square feet. The units include an open-concept floor plan with living and dining areas, a master suite, two full bathrooms, a two-truck enclosed garage, and a covered front and back porch or patio. This community development includes centrally-located recreational space with multiple open-air pavilions for family picnics.

Sustainable design and construction were critical mandates and served as an organizing principal throughout the project. GSA has long been committed to lowering cost of operations and reducing our impact on the environment by creating energy efficient buildings. These efforts allow us and our customers to make smart investments that will save taxpayer dollars, shrink our environmental footprint and support a clean energy economy.

“We recognize that our responsibility to increase the sustainability of the Federal Government applies to all of our building projects,” said Cox. “And, these housing units are no exception.”

Each home has a three or four kilowatt photovoltaic solar array on the garage roof to generate power, with a goal of achieving net-zero energy consumption. With other key features, such as the use of environmentally preferred construction materials for concrete and fencing, very high efficiency water fixtures and HVAC systems, and energy star rated appliances and lighting, this project achieved a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED®) Platinum rating the week following its official opening. It is the first housing development in Arizona and the first known Federal Government housing (according to the U.S. Department of Interior) to get the highest achievable rating under LEED for Homes.

The site’s complex topography presented a number of challenges during the project. The 11.61 acre site contained a number of previously used slabs, existing housing, and extensive subsurface rocks that required removal and excavation for the reuse of this parcel. The project area lies between 1,800 feet and 1,840 feet in elevation on terrain that descends to the northeast among rolling hills and low mountains. The significant change in elevation across the site presented an additional challenge. Sundt Construction, working closely with The Architect Company, terraced the site and constructed several retaining walls using rocks retrieved from the site excavation to mitigate the elevation concerns.

The Ajo housing development project was a great success due primarily to the close collaboration between the stakeholders and having a skilled and dedicated team of contractors. GSA was committed to ensuring local small businesses played a large role in the project and included a 24.25 percent overall small business participation goal in the requirements. Sundt not only exceeded this goal, but also surpassed each of the additional social economic goals, awarding 41.5 percent to Veteran-Owned; seven percent to both Women Owned and Small Disadvantaged; and six percent to both HUBZone and Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business concerns.

View the Sustainable Housing in Ajo photo gallery >

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