Captain John Smith has returned from a 400 year slumber and decided to run for President of the United States. His platform is based on a drive to restore water quality in the nation’s streams, rivers and bays. He does not believe that his issue is getting enough attention in this election season; that is why he has made the trip to his future, our present.
This past weekend I had the pleasure of spending nearly all of my waking hours at his campaign headquarters, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s Merrill Center. It is one of only about 50 Leed Platinum Certified buildings in the world. Unlike certain former presidential candidates who talk green and act a bit differently, Captain Smith apparently practices as well as he preaches.
The Merrill Center’s entrance road is lined with “Vote John Smith for President” signs, there are banners hanging in the soaring lobby, and one of the campaign volunteers offered me brochures, buttons, and a tee shirt. I am wearing the tee shirt as I write, but it is really early in the morning so I am sure I do not want to share that visual with the world.
Of course, the campaign is all in good fun, but the message is important and the Bay Foundation takes its mission of education and environmental leadership very seriously. While at the Merrill Center, I had the good fortune of getting a tour of the building by Kim Coble, the Maryland Executive Director and a 15 year employee at the Foundation. It was fascinating to hear about all of the careful planning that enabled the building, which provides office space for about 90 workers, to use about 10% of the water and 30% of the electricity of the average building of its size.
The building occupies the footprint of the Bay Ridge Hotel, a place that had been a destination resort known as “Queen Resort of the Chesapeake” in the era before the automobile, but which had burned down in 1915. The local residents in Bay Ridge helped the Foundation acquire the property, partly as a way to avoid a more intensive development.
There are many green features in the building including rainwater collection systems, geothermal wells, solar photovoltaic panels, open air flows with high vent windows, lights with motion sensors, and a Clivus composting toilet system. (The Clivus system nearly always generates the most discussion during building tours.)
Aside: At least 10-15% of the 96 solar panels, installed in 2000, were no longer functioning. When viewed from below, you could see the open circuits and discontinuities that would prevent any electricity from flowing. Several of the Foundation employees confided that the panels are not very functional and provide only a small portion of the facility’s electricity. They are looking for improved ways to generate power.End Aside
More than half of the building materials originated less than 300 miles from the center’s Annapolis, Maryland location, many were made from recycled products, and the wood materials were either pressed from chips or harvested in a sustainable manner from sources like cork or bamboo. Kim was obviously very proud of the building and the example that it sets for others who are interested in living and working in a manner that is in harmony with the environment.
From my point of view, it is not hard to understand the passion that people like Kim bring to their work. As she said during the tour, one of the ways that the Foundation gets people to care about the Bay and its restoration is to get them out on the water and get them wet and dirty. She said that people who have been there love the Bay and are more likely to work to make it cleaner.
I can testify that is true. On the day before my tour, I had spent most of the day as a manual laborer on the Merrill Center beach, helping to set up and assist guests for a Chesapeake Bay Foundation fund raiser, the third annual “Bands in the Sand”. It was one of my many opportunities to get wet, get sweaty, get a bit sunburned and to realize just how important it is to work to balance the needs and desires of humans to live and play near the water with the need to minimize their impact.
Disclosure: I have been a Bay Foundation contributor for a number of years and my wife works for the Foundation.
Photo Credit: Captain John Smith near the Capitol Building – Nikki Davis courtesy of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation
“Bands in the Sand 2008” Rod Adams under Creative Commons