Greenville-Spartanburg Int'l Rebuilds a Greener FBO

Mike Bernos
Published in: 

When a storm destroyed the general aviation terminal at Greenville-Spartanburg International in 2007, the local aviation commission didn't hold a grudge against nature. If fact, it resolved to build the most Earth-friendly, environmentally sensitive building possible, within economic reason. What it got was a facility currently being considered for silver or gold level Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification.

Facts & Figures

Project: General Aviation Facility

Location: Greenville-Spartanburg (SC) International Airport

FBO Management: Stevens Aviation

Cost: $1.25 million

Size: 5,000 sq. ft.

Design: RS&H

LEED Consultant: Jeff Ross Bain

Builder: Jon Scott Construction

Fuel Supplier: Air BP

Key Elements: Environmentally sustainable design is expected to use 30% less energy and 70% less potable water than an equal-size traditional building.

Opened in January flying the Stevens Aviation flag, the nearly 5,000-square-foot fixed-based operation (FBO) sets a high standard for energy efficiency in general aviation facilities. At $1.25 million, it cost about 10% more than a conventional design would have; but its increased energy efficiencies alone are expected to recoup the increased capital cost in well under 10 years, says Bill Hogan, vice president of Aviation for design firm RS&H. The building, Hogan relates, uses 30% less energy and 70% less potable water than a typical building of equal size.

"In a world that is looking for green solutions, it feels good to be on the cutting edge of that movement by reducing our energy consumption and using environmentally friendly technology," says Neal McGrail, COO of Stevens Aviation.

Blueprint for Change

The Greenville-Spartanburg Aviation Commission, led by chairman and building owner Roger Milliken, hired LEED consultant Jeff Ross Bain to help establish a greener direction for the new general aviation facility. When Bain advised the group that a silver or gold LEED rating was possible within its budget, the commission unanimously decided to pursue certification. "Hyper-efficient" is how the commissioners described the building they wanted.

"They wanted the infrastructure to enter the 21st century, beginning with energy efficiency, water efficiency and improved indoor environmental quality. Those things go hand-in-hand," says Bain.

The commission's decision to build a LEED-certified facility suits the progressive mindset of the Greenville-Spartanburg region. The area's natural beauty and resources have attracted major North America operations of Michelin and BMW. A modern, environmentally sustainable FBO to receive corporate jets arriving regularly from Europe seemed like a natural fit. A charter operation and Air BP fueling center further complement the new 4,800-square-foot facility.

Electric lights are often unnecessary because windows are positioned to maximize the use of natural light.

Making it Green

The environmental features begin outside the general aviation terminal, with a 1/8-acre xeriscaped garden, which requires little or no water. From an aesthetic standpoint, the building exterior was designed to coordinate with the airport's main terminal.

Inside, a variety of energy-efficient features combine to create a facility designed substantially above code, notes Dennis Iskra, RS&H architect and project manager. Water for the restrooms, for instance, is heated by solar panels on the roof; rainwater is collected for flushing the urinals and toilets.

Throughout the facility, electric lights are often unnecessary until late in the day because windows are positioned to maximize the use of natural light. Additionally, the windows have automated shades controlled by photocells that determine how much sun to let in.

A variable-flow system for heating and air conditioning further boosts energy efficiency. "It allows heat to be transferred from one side of building to the other without activating the compressor, which is the biggest draw of electricity," explains Iskra.

Dennis Iskra

The system also helps manage air quality in each room. "When the room is empty, fresh air flow is at the minimum allowed by code. When the room is occupied, sensors detect carbon dioxide levels and temperature and route fresh air and air conditioning as needed," explains Hogan. "This technique has been used in Europe for a little while, but is very new in the U.S. As an FBO, the building can expect sporadic use of some areas, such as the pilot lounge and conference rooms. This strategy works perfectly with the inconsistent and even unpredictable use an FBO receives."

Overall, says Iskra, the facility is a good example of how environmentally friendly design does not have to sacrifice comfort. "In fact, it enhances it," he says. "For example, all the energy control systems are fully automated. Once the systems are set, nobody has to change them."

Like the design, construction practices contributed to the LEED effort. Throughout the project, contractors used building materials with 95% recycled content and recycled up to 99% of their construction debris, reports John Hetrick, owner and partner of Jon Scott Construction.

A handful of on-site dumpsters that were monitored and marked for separate materials facilitated the recycling effort.

"We converted nearly all the debris into recycled materials, thereby diverting waste from the landfill into recycling centers," reports Hetrick. "This helps tremendously with LEED points."

The final result, notes Iskra, reflects the commission's commitment to explore every method of increasing the efficiency of the building, while keeping the occupants comfortable. "I think they were very successful," he says.

It All Adds Up

Response to the new general aviation terminal has been very positive, reports airport manager Larry Holcombe.

Larry Holcombe

"People recognize what a beautiful and innovative building it is," Holcombe says. "Our airport commissioners are very conscientious when it comes to the environment, and they demonstrated it here."

Official acknowledgement of the team's environmental efforts is expected imminently, in the form of LEED certification. "The building would meet platinum certification standards - the highest level - if the building were located at Greenville's general aviation airport, which is downtown," notes Hogan. "As it is, it loses a few points due to the airport's suburban/exurban location."

Regardless of the level of LEED certification that is ultimately earned, McGrail considers the facility is a "definite source of pride" for the commission and entire Greenville-Spartanburg region.

According to Bain, LEED certification will be "icing on the cake," because the building is everything the commission wanted and more.

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