by Robert Gluck
Things seem to be moving quickly in the green building industry, but then again, for some, they may not be moving fast enough; especially when it comes to government funds.
According to an article published in the Wall Street Journal, the nation’s green-building industry is awaiting billions of dollars in economic-stimulus funding earmarked to make government buildings more energy efficient. But based on the slow pace of allocations thus far, it could take months or even years for spending to trickle down to contractors.
In her article “Green Builders Await the Green” writer Christina Lewis said the General Services Administration, which oversees the federal government’s property, was allocated $ 5.5 billion as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act passed by Congress in February, of which $ 2 billion should be allocated before Dec. 31.
The initiative is designed to create jobs and to pioneer cutting-edge technology in construction that is environmentally friendly.
“At a time when construction on private projects has stalled, advocates of green building hope the GSA, which is America’s largest landlord with a 1,500-building portfolio, can use its purchasing power and nationwide reach to lower costs, test emerging products and educate the industry,” Lewis wrote.
Lewis quoted Jason Hartke, vice-president of national policy for the USGBC. “The value of having the government lead the industry on such projects is priceless,” Hartke told Lewis.
But so far, the agency has allocated just $ 1.5 billion, or 75%, of the funds it was appropriated for 2009 and is racing to allot an additional $ 500 million by the end of the year, just two weeks away.
The agency said bids for work are coming in under budget; a good thing, but one that slows them down from meeting its benchmark.
In addition, the GSA has paid out only $ 89 million.
“What we’ve got now is a lot of architects working overtime to get the work done,” Bob Peck, the agency’s commissioner of public buildings, told Lewis.
Peck said the delay in spending reflects the long lead time required to draw up building plans, which can take a minimum of six to nine months.
Economists said the delays in putting the funds to work illustrate the challenges of trying to quickly create new jobs in an industry that traditionally moves slowly.
And government planners tend to move more slowly than private industry, according to developers.
“Obviously, the funds would have to be outlaid for it to create jobs,” Kermit Baker, chief economist for the American Institute of Architects, told Lewis. “But once companies feel that money is coming through the pipeline, it’ll have a dramatic effect.”
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The projects that are furthest along are those that already were in the works, but put on hold due to lack of funding.
For example, the agency broke ground on a federal courthouse in Austin, Texas, in September; planning began eight years ago.
Some projects also are complex, requiring long planning periods.
The central federal office in Portland, Ore., the Edith Green-Wendell Wyatt Building, was allocated $133 million to modernize the 30-year-old, 510,000-square-foot building, including a daylight-adaptive lighting system that will reduce consumption 50%; and new mechanical, electrical and elevator systems.
The GSA plans to hire a construction manager to oversee the project.
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