Austin Powers Branch With Environment In Mind

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Turns out, Kermit the Frog was wrong-it IS easy being green. At least it is for a credit union determined to be environmentally conscious in a community in which the environment is a serious issue.

Austin Federal Credit Union's main branch is a "green" building, designed from the ground up to go beyond standard building codes to achieve energy and water efficiency. According to the builder, it uses 42% less energy than structures of a similar size.

The building has won two awards-on the local and state level-from the Association of General Contractors in the outstanding construction category for buildings from $1 million to $5 million.

Starting From Scratch

In early 2003, Austin FCU was preparing to build a new headquarters branch. Phil Mitchell, the CU's vice president, said it was a "design-build" situation, meaning it started with a blank sheet of paper.

"We hired a contractor who had built a couple of banks and one credit union in Austin," he recalled. "We went through the entire process of designing a building for a financial institution. The architect was a South Austin hippy dude who is a big advocate of conserving. Where possible, we are, too. He told us of the Austin Green Building Program."

Representatives from the city's Green Building Program met with Austin FCU management on six occasions, Mitchell said. The city made recommendations and put the credit union in touch with partners.

The building uses less electricity thanks to a combination of "clerestory" windows-which are placed high in the room to let in light, not for a view-and a continuous dimmer system. Clark Mente, the architect, said there is not much need for electric light during the day.

"A photocell reads the natural light and adjusts the lights accordingly," he said. "At night, the electric lights brighten up to normal levels."

The roof is an Energy Star qualified design that reflects sunlight during the hot Texas summers. The building is fully insulated and the "high performance" windows minimize heat exchange. The HVAC system is designed to be efficient and the correct size for the building. And the landscaping uses native, "water-wise" plants.

Austin FCU's Mitchell said the credit union received a $6,500 rebate from the City of Austin, lower utility bills, plus goodwill from the community.

"The membership has been extremely pleased and proud of their new headquarters building," he said. "More than anything, we want to let other credit unions know if they spend a little money up front, they will reap that ten-fold down the road."

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