In December 2020, the City of Madison, Wisconsin, opened a $33 million fleet facility. The shop not only consolidates various facilities and brings together about 40 staff members, but it has also been certified a LEED Gold facility by the U.S. Green Building Council, a designation Fleet Superintendent Mahanth Joishy believes is a first for any fleet shop.
But what features makes a fleet facility sustainable, which features are the most important for those who work there daily, and how do you balance sustainability with higher construction costs? Here’s what staff members with the city had to say.
Lighting Makes a Difference
The city’s engineering staff had initially aimed for Silver certification but “overdesigned” and were able to achieve Gold during the construction phase, said Jim Whitney, a city architect and architect project manager for the building.
Whitney said the top five features in making the building sustainable are:
- Clerestory window natural daylighting
- LED lighting systems
- Hydronic hot water floor heating system
- 100kw solar electric photovoltaic panels
- Passive solar heating wall at light-duty bays.
Joishy agrees better lighting is a major plus for fleet staff and technicians; they moved from a building constructed in the 1950s with poor lighting.
“After 20 years of working in auto garages, I have never experienced the level of creature comforts for all fleet staff that our new shop has — excellent air quality, comfortable temperatures and humidity, and Vitamin D from natural sunlight in every corner of the shop, all without compromising on sustainability,” Joishy said.
Jon Evans, a city engineer and building design project manager, said one of the building's unique features is that it has three solar features — solar electric panels, solar hot water panels, and a solar air wall. The hot water panels preheat hot water and reduce hot water needs, while the solar air wall preheats the ventilation air; both reduce natural gas use. All three solar features help lower the utility bill.
Evaluating Cost Comparisons & Payback
Add the word “sustainable” to anything and you’ll likely see higher costs. But Evans believes that over the lifespan of the building, it won’t cost more.
“How do you define cost? [There are] more construction costs, but does it save you in utility costs as you operate the building? Does it help with staff retention and less sick days? And the disposal costs if you’re using less harsh materials and chemicals?” Evans said. “You can probably argue that on a lifecycle basis they don’t cost you more; they actually cost you less.”
He pointed out some energy-saving features and their costs: solar panels cost $300,000; installing radiant heat flooring costs $400,000; insulated garage doors with insulated glass cost $100,000; a solar hot water heater costs about $100,000, even with donated panels. All this, and more, amounted to about an extra million dollars in sustainable and energy-efficient features. He added that Focus on Energy, Wisconsin’s energy efficiency and renewable resource program, provided a rebate check of $150,000.
Evans predicts a 10- to 15-year payback for these features alone. That’s not mentioning that great lighting, comfortable and safe spaces, thermal comfort, good acoustics, and a nice breakroom and multi-purpose community room that will improve staff satisfaction and retention.
Whitney added that the team worked with Focus on Energy to look at baseline equipment costs and compare them to energy improvement costs. They determined the most energy-efficient products were too costly.
“We went with the middle-of-the-road package that provided significant improvements for energy conservation — a good balance of that along with increased costs and a good payback,” he said.
The facility also enables growth for an alternative-fuel fleet. It has charging infrastructure for city fleet vehicles, employee personal vehicles, and public charging for visitors, including six solar-powered stations via three ARC units from Beam. It's designed to grow to accommodate heavy-duty compressed natural gas (CNG) vehicles if the city decides to take that path in the future, and this year, the city will add significantly more solar panels to the rooftop.
Here are all the features that make the Madison fleet facility sustainable, provided by Jim Whtiney.
- LED lighting throughout
- Solar tube daylighting in the office areas and hallways
- Innovative passive solar heating wall at the light-duty bays
- All floor areas with radiant in-floor hot water heating system
- Solar hot water heating system using recycled solar collector panels
- Solar PV, 100kw, expandable in the future on the heavy-duty bay roof area
- Clerestory daylighting in the repair bay areas (light duty/heavy duty/radio shop)
- EV charging stations for service and public
- Office areas with outside air ventilation system with heat recovery and air-cooling units
- Compressed natural gas (CNG) vehicle ventilation in the radio shop bays with CNG gas exhaust-air fans and CNG gas alarms
- Future CNG vehicle ventilation in the heavy-duty bays, exhaust-air ducts in place, and fans sized for future CNG ventilation use
- 95% high efficiency condensing boilers
- R30 exterior wall assemblies
- Insulated precast concrete exterior wall panels
- R40 roof assembly
- Daylighting dimming lighting controls
- Manual dimming lighting controls
- Occupancy sensor lighting controls