Green building in a land of white
Beauty is definitely more than skin deep this year at the Aspen Highlands ski patrol headquarters.The building, which opened before last season, provides one of the most stunning views in the Roaring Fork Valley. Perched at 11,600 feet, its deck provides a vista of Pyramid Peak, the Maroon Bells and the surrounding mountains that owners of Aspen McMansions would die for.But Aspen Skiing Co. officials hope the building gets recognized for more than the killer views. The structure is a shining example of how a green-building philosophy has pervaded the company, according to Skico Director of Environmental Affairs Auden Schendler.He said Aspen Highlands Mountain Manager Ron Chauner, patrol director Mac Smith and several other people involved in the design and construction didn’t need any coaching on environmentally friendly building; their project was the very essence of “green.”It starts with the site. The building was tucked into an inconspicuous location west of the Loge Peak chairlift’s upper terminal. Burrowing the structure into the mountainside created the great decks but also limited the exposure and situated it for great solar gain.
“We wanted it to blend in with the environment but not overwhelm it,” Chauner said.Many of the materials used in construction were salvaged from other projects. Steel for the frame was taken from old chairlifts. The huge picture windows that grace the headquarters’ south side were pulled out of the old administration building at the Highlands base.When new materials were used, they were top of the line for energy efficiency. The insulation is shredded cloth. The roofing is structurally integrated panels of plywood sandwiched around 12 inches of insulation. That roofing’s efficiency far exceeds code.Another cool feature is the grating used for the deck, no so much for its environmental stature but for its effect. The grating is wide, so people can see the ground far below. “We wanted to make people feel like they were walking on air,” Chauner said.
Perhaps the coup de grace of patrol headquarters was a late addition. Highlands patrolman Mike Tierney, who is also president of Aspen Solar Inc., was hired last summer to construct a photovoltaic system that feeds power back into the grid on sunny days. He integrated a baker’s dozen solar panels, each roughly the size of a four-by-eight piece of plywood, onto the deck’s south side.The $22,000 project was made possible in part from $9,200 in rebates from Holy Cross Energy and the Community Office for Resource Efficiency. Both gave $4,600, based on the system’s size, Schendler said. Holy Cross will also credit the Skico’s electric bill to offset what it feeds back into the grid.The system has produced slightly more than one megawatt, or 1,000 kilowatt hours, since its completion in September. One kilowatt hour is enough electricity to run a dishwasher load.The system is picking up steam with the recent sunny weather.”Considering the cloudy winter we have had, I would say those numbers are excellent,” Tierney wrote to Schendler and other Skico officials in an e-mail recently.
Schendler said the system will never come close to offsetting the electricity consumed by the 1,300-square-foot building. Because of the building’s location, there was no choice but to use an inefficient electrical heating system.Nevertheless, the project was well worth the expense and effort because of the exposure it commands.”The thing has way more value in inspiration than in clean-energy production,” Schendler said.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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