Woburn Advocate - February 17, 2010


LEEDing the way
Woburn Advocate

Thousands of people drive past it every day, but few know that the sleek, glassy building that towers over Route 128 off Main Street in Woburn is one of the “greenest” in the state.

It’s a place that boasts a roof lined with 1,022 solar panels which employees themselves installed, an underground storage area that traps stormwater to use for landscaping and a newly opened restaurant where even the cooking oil gets recycled.

TradeCenter 128 – a sprawling 700,00 square feet in connected buildings, as well as a 250,000-square-foot garage – is what energy officials call a LEED pre-certified Gold Level structure. That’s a fancy phrase that means it meets certain standards of the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System in five key areas: sustainable site development, water savings, energy efficiency, materials selection and indoor environmental quality.

The “green” planning started even before Cummings Properties turned the first shovel on the project.

Part of what qualifies TradeCenter 128 for its LEED designation is its placement – in an area with established services, on a previously developed site and with on-site public transportation, thanks to the MBTA.

Construction materials came from local, New England sources and much of it had a history. Seventy-five to 90 percent of the steel in TradeCenter 128, for example, is recycled material. Likewise, debris generated from construction was itself later recycled.

The roof adventure

But the building of TradeCenter 128 also provided some unexpected adventure.

Take the solar panel array that sits on the white, reflective roof on top of the five-story parking structure, next to the building housing the Middlesex County Superior Court.

James Trudeau, design manager for Cummings Properties, says the first 520 panels arrived the last week of November in 2008, with a big snowstorm predicted. With no time to waste, some 30 employees assembled and formed what Trudeau calls “quite a little production line” of workers handing solar panels through windows onto the roof.

“We have so many skilled tradesmen in the organization, and they trained subgroups of the installation team,” Trudeau explains. “We had a bucket brigade to maximize installation… Ten inches of snow fell the next day.”

The second half of the panels were installed the following year, without incident, and together they provide for 63 percent of the common-area lighting in the TradeCenter and are expected to produce more than 400,000 kilowatts of power per year. Inverters take the energy from the solar panels, boost the voltage and change it from DC to AC, with excess power going back into the grid.

Indoor energy savings

Inside, the buildings offer several features many a budget-conscious homeowner might envy:

Reflective glass windows that cut down on glare and prevent heat loss, as well as small, operable windows to let in fresh air. A central computer that “tells” 500 heat pumps throughout the buildings to make the air cooler or warmer, depending on the season, at night, when most workers have left. Energy-efficient light bulbs and toilets. Motion-activated lighting. High-efficiency gas burners. Energy recovery ventilators that admit fresh air.

Outside, stormwater is collected in underground storage areas, and either seeps back into the soil or gets pumped onto landscaping trucks for use in watering trees and plantings. A separate area is dedicated for bicycle storage and those driving low-emission vehicles get preferred parking spots.

‘Green’ restaurant

The new Beacon Grille restaurant on the first floor uses “demand control ventilation” to adjust the exhaust fan, depending on the amount of smoke that’s generated in the kitchen. Appliances are EnergyStar-rated and a high-efficiency boiler provides hot water for dishwashing. Glass bottles and cardboard food containers get recycled – and so does the cooking oil, which will eventually be used for biofuel. All of the proceeds from the restaurant go to the Cummings Foundation, a private foundation that grants scholarships to high school seniors in six communities and operates two not-for-profit assisted living facilities, among other charitable activities.

TradeCenter 128 is not the only green building among Cumming Properties’ roughly 80 structures – the government has given four others its EnergyStar designation for being among the most energy-efficient in the nation – but it is the largest.

So why go green?

William S. Cummings, founder of Cummings Properties, concedes a bit of Yankee frugality figures in the equation – he hates waste – but the reasons run far deeper than that.

“It adds more meaning to what we do,” Cummings says. “We’re trying to set some leadership pattern.”

Trudeau adds that the emphasis on “green” is also good for employee morale.

“People feel good about the company because the company is doing that,” he says, “as well as it being the right thing to do.”