California Military Department Aims to be First State Facility to Meet Zero Net Energy Mandate

Back Webform By Graham Womack

The California Military Department headquarters in Rancho Cordova is one of the first large-scale efforts attempting to meet a California mandate regarding the energy efficiency of state facilities.

The $135 million headquarters, slated to open in 2020 adjacent to Mather Airport, had its groundbreaking in early May. When finished, the 285,000-square-foot campus will be zero net energy — meaning it won’t consume more energy than it produces — and have LEED Gold certification, the second highest level by the U.S. Green Building Council.

In 2012, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed an executive order with a range of conditions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and energy consumption, including that all state buildings constructed after 2025 be zero net energy facilities. The one in Rancho Cordova has been an even longer time coming, and promises benefits for both the military and the city.

A Modern Headquarters, At Last

Col. Robert Spano says the new headquarters has been a priority for the department for about 20 years, but construction is only just getting underway. Eventually, the campus will house the California Military Department, as well as the State’s Army National Guard; Air National Guard; Military Reserve; and Youth and Community Programs. Previously, the California Military Department was scattered among different buildings.

Spano says having everyone under one roof will improve operational efficiency for the military, including with an expanded joint operations center.

“Right off the bat, all of the leadership’s in one location, all the staff’s in one location and all the doers are in one location,” Spano says. “That really helps to streamline everything for us, on day-to-day operations and especially during an emergency.”

Spano says it’s almost better the new headquarters is being built now, “only because so much has improved in terms of technology, and in the building trade and the fact that we’re going to be the first zero net energy project of this magnitude in the state under the governor’s order.”

The military will get a modernized headquarters with environmental features that help it meet post 9/11 anti-terrorism force protection standards and benefit the environment. The environmental bells and whistles with the project are numerous. Cisterns on-site will allow storage of about 300,000 cubic feet of water, which “keeps us from washing out our friends down the street,” says Bill Ketcham, a principal for the project’s design firm, Stantec.

Building windows are designed differently depending on orientation to the sun. East and west windows are tall and thin in deep-set facades, allowing for more shading. South-facing windows feature horizontal sunscreens to prevent direct sunlight from the entering the building. North windows have vertical finds to shade early and late sun around the summer equinox.

Heating and cooling is primarily done through radiant floor piping that allows the use of mass coupling. Facility mechanical systems also capture rejected heat from required exhaust systems.

Incentive to Build Green

Designing buildings with high-end environmental features is nothing unusual for Ketcham. “I haven’t done a building that wasn’t minimum LEED Silver in probably 10 years,” Ketcham says. “The payback on that is really quite significant and makes the investment worthwhile.”

Gary Becker, a program manager for Sacramento Municipal Utility District, says it’s standard practice for all state buildings to design to LEED and that “it’s not that costly to do the LEED Silver, the lower thresholds of LEED.”

That said, Becker — who’s assisted on the project for about six months through SMUD’s Savings By Design program — says it’s rare the utility provider gets a project this focused on achieving zero net energy.

“I say it’s very ambitious,” Becker says. “They’re at the very cutting edge, in the highest percentile to even attempt to do zero energy, especially with a building like this that has some very intensive energy uses,” such as data servers.

SMUD has a vested interest in helping projects like the new military headquarters succeed, with the utility’s board directing it to reduce its energy retail load by 15 percent within 10 years. For this reason, the Savings By Design program has $1.6 million of annual funding, with projects both public and private eligible to receive up to $150,000 in incentives. The military headquarters has an application in for this incentive, payable upon completion of the project.

What it Means for Rancho Cordova

Meanwhile, Rancho Cordova gets an upgraded building for one of the most high-profile members of its business community, while maintaining an important part of its history. Mayor Linda Budge notes that the military headquarters have been in town for about 30 years and Mather Field turned 100 this year.

“There were three categories of people who came to Rancho Cordova when modern-day Rancho Cordova was settled in the 1950s,” Budge says. “One group of people worked at Mather. (Another group) worked at AeroJet. And the other group of people were the people who came to provide services and organizations to all the people who were living here.”

Now, Rancho Cordova is one of the three main employment hubs in the region, along with Sacramento and South Placer, Budge says. She estimates that 55,000 to 65,000 workers commute in each day, for everything from manufacturing to auto dismantling to contractor jobs.

“For at least two decades now, we have not been just a bedroom community, because we have more jobs than residents here,” Budge says.

She’s pleased to see the new military headquarters helping increase this. “This adds to the diversity of our business community,” Budge says. “They have been in our community for probably three decades. They are consolidating. The location was logical for them because of course it’s immediately adjacent to flight line facilities, which you cannot replicate anywhere else in the country.”

The facility will be located near a residential neighborhood, an elementary school and a preschool. Ketcham says he’s designing something to fit. “As the building is going up and as you see images of it, it will not look like your military base or airport (or another military industrial building,” he says. “There is a legitimate intent to make it look more welcoming and neighborhood and person-friendly.”