For 30 years, the Sears Automotive Center in downtown Bremerton, Wash., sat derelict and vacant. That it was never demolished in all that time is remarkable, but the fact that it has now been sustainably transformed into the offices of Rice Fergus Miller is even more so. The architecture and planning firm purchased the 39,000-square-foot building in 2009 and spent two years renovating it, with a particular focus on recycled and locally sourced materials, passive energy use, water conservation, and indoor air quality. The LEED Platinum–certified building with an EUI of 21.6 is now considered one of the most energy-efficient buildings in the Pacific Northwest, and is a sustainable showcase for the firm.

Rice Fergus Miller deliberately chose to renovate an existing building in Bremerton rather than build new or relocate to another city. The location promotes the use of public transit, as it is located only four blocks from a bus depot and a ferry terminal for those commuting across Puget Sound from Seattle. The office plays a dual role as a gallery or black-box theater, creating a flexible performance area or gathering space for community events, including 33 held in its first year of occupancy.

Before occupancy, the office’s projected energy use intensity (EUI) was 19 kBtus per square foot per year. After one year of operation, the building has an EUI of about 19.5 or 20. The firm estimates that the annual energy savings are $26,000 compared to a typical Seattle-area office building. The natural–mechanical ventilation system requires little ductwork, and ceiling fans distribute the air. A 9-kilowatt photovoltaic system supplies 7 percent of the energy used. Eighty percent of the building can be ventilated with operable windows. The firm worked with a mechanical engineer and college interns who determined that the EUI could be pushed down to 16 with additional measures.

Water conservation is accomplished primarily through rainwater collection and reuse. The water collected in the building’s two 3,000-gallon cisterns provides 93 percent of the water required for toilet flushing and all of the site’s irrigation needs, including its small green roof. Low-flow fixtures conserve water as well, and the overall savings are estimated to be 62,000 gallons and 71 percent less than a similar office building built to current code.

Materials and IAQ
Once run-down and unattractive, the Sears Automotive Center has been transformed with an open floor plan that pays homage to the building’s industrial past, combining rustic wood elements with cool metal, while providing cozy, contemplative areas for meeting and working. Reuse and local investment were important to the firm, so the team chose to reframe the roof with locally harvested and milled wood. Salvaged Douglas fir beams from the original building were reused as a decorative feature wall, and mechanical parts from the building’s old freight elevator now help to move a flywall in the main forum space. In all, 93 percent of the major structural elements were repurposed and diverted from the landfill. Twenty-four percent of new materials were made with recycled content. Natural ventilation is used throughout the space, and an energy-recovery ventilator turns on when carbon dioxide levels are too high. Interior finishes were kept to a minimum to reduce off-gassing of VOCs.

“We didn’t want to just see the renovation work as the whole work—we wanted to imagine, beyond that challenge, ‘How sustainable can this be, what possibilities are there for greatness, and how do we make this remarkable?’ We did that both to satisfy ourselves … and to be able to show clients and the community that ‘remarkable’ can be done efficiently and economically when approached with an integrated team thinking together. So I guess the lesson is to generate vision and a story and then be bold in carrying it out.” —Steve Rice, senior principal, Rice Fergus Miller

“The thing I really like about this project is it does the most with the least. To do a market office building with the rigor they did—they did everything on this project well. It’s great with water, energy, reuse. It’s LEED Platinum and can meet the 2030 Challenge, which many projects didn’t even mention.”

For an extended view into Rice Fergus Miller's philsophies on sustainable design as well as a showcase of the firm's other green projects, click here.

Architect, client, owner, interior designer: Rice Fergus Miller,
Mechanical engineer: Ecotope,
Structural engineer: Structural Solutions,
Electrical engineer: Gerber Engineering,
Civil engineer: Westsound Engineering,
Construction manager: Dan Ryan, owner; Adam Vega, project manager; Lee Capps, site superintendent
General contractor: Tim Ryan Construction,
Landscape architect: Cascade Design Collaborative,
Lighting designer: Corsucate Lighting Consulting,
Green consultant: O’Brien & Company,

Appliances: GE,
Carpet: J&J Invision,
Ceilings: Armstrong,
Curtainwalls: Fabricut,
Exterior wall systems: Armourcoat,
Fabrics: Fabricut; Designtex,
Flooring: Gerbert,; Forbo,; Rubenstein's,
Furniture: Band & Office Interiors,; Ryan and Chris Tincher; Highmark,; Hightower,; Humanscale,; Steelcase,; Turnstone,
HVAC: Ecotope; Big Ass Fan Company,
Lighting control systems: Corsucate Lighting Consulting
Lighting: Corsucate Lighting Consulting; Hampstead,; LBL
Masonry, concrete, and stone: Pental Granice & Marble,
Metal: Lee Fabricators,
Paints and finishes: Sabelhaus,; Scuffmaster,; Sherwin-Williams,
Photovoltaics: Washington Solar Incentives
Plumbing and water systems: Pipemaster
Roofing: Tri-Star Roofing
Signage: Badge Boys,; Wolf Gordon
Wallcoverings: Homasote,; RJF,; Steelcase
Windows and doors: Tiltco,; Northwest Door,