High marks for Portola Valley Town Center


Earth tones, homespun textures and subordination to the landscape are central to the three-building complex at Portola Valley's Town Center: the exterior siding is redwood, the slats shading entranceways are cedar, and the concrete plaza is a light tan, a complement to the wood and to the imprints of leaves pressed into the concrete when it was wet.

Not quite the scene to associate with platinum, a silvery-white precious metal emblematic of big-city glamour, but officials and volunteers involved in the four-year effort to complete the $20 million project probably won't quibble.

The Green Building Certification Institute, the Washington, D.C.-based certification authority for the U.S. Green Building Council, has given the complex of library, Town Hall and community hall a platinum rating -- its highest -- according to a Nov. 17 statement copied to The Almanac by project lead architect Larry Strain.

The award for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) is the latest recognition of the Town Center that re-opened in September 2008, and it's gratifying. "This is one that's more of a concrete affirmation of the fact that we did a good thing," Councilman and project point man Ted Driscoll told The Almanac.

The complex needed 52 points from a 69-point checklist to reach platinum; it earned 54. The list tests a project's sustainability, resource use, indoor environment, and innovation.

The vetting is an honor system, with crosschecks, and is done over months. Architects, helped by the project team, fill out forms online and submit them to the certification agency, Mr. Strain said in an interview.

The town bought redwood siding said to be salvaged from old bridge timbers and already cut logs, for example. The crosschecks in this case were letters from the vendors certifying the wood's sources, Mr. Strain said.

The town's point count included two for innovation and four for public education, Mr. Strain said.

Critical to the education element, Mr. Strain said, were the hiring of a resource efficiency coordinator; sponsorship of lectures on green topics; and the "dashboard," a computerized display in the library at which visitors watch a real-time display of the complex's use of water and energy.

"The town actually upped their whole approach to sustainability as a result of this project," he said. "That, to me, is really cool."

Platinum is rare for a municipal building. In an undated listing of 199 rated buildings at the Web site of the Northern California chapter of the Green Building Council, 18 reached platinum. Of those, two are connected with local government, one of which is San Jose City Hall.

Residents of Portola Valley contributed $17 million to the project. The cost of LEED certification was "a relatively small additional increment," Mr. Driscoll said, "It's almost impossible to measure."

The goal of LEED platinum helped fundraising, he added. "It was a lot easier to convince people to contribute to this project when we emphasized how green it was," he said.

Deep pocketed and generous residents aside, the completed complex is now an object lesson on green building aesthetics, Mr. Driscoll said, noting: "It doesn't look like a lean-to." Indeed.

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