By Brent Sauser
Scheduled to open in November of 2014, those that know say that the new Dr. Philips Performing Arts Center is on schedule. To this discerning eye my estimate is more like May 2015. Regardless, I had the opportunity to tour the construction site and was very impressed with the scale of this world class facility. The overall total square footage adds up to 330,000SF, however, the 1,700 seat Acoustics Theatre is part of the 2nd phase of construction, which will occur once the funds have been procured. Included in the first phase is the 2,700 seat Disney Theater, which features a fan shaped seating layout enabling a much closer-to-the-stage theatrical experience. Also included in the first phase is a small 300 seat community theater to help maintain its roots to smaller, more intimate local presentations.
Without doubt, those involved with the design and construction of the Dr. Philips Performing Arts Center are very excited and proud of this accomplishment. The website boasts many wonderful facts regarding how state-of-the-art it will be. But, with all the “hoopla” about design vision, diversity, and status . . . . I couldn’t find one sentence regarding any attention to energy conservation or environmental sustainability. NOTHING! It wasn’t until I looked deeper that the contract for construction included a very short paragraph requiring the facility to achieve a LEED Certified level using the LEED v2.2 guidelines. This project was approved in 2007 when LEED v2.2 was the standard and seemed like (at the time) a huge hurdle to climb. Today, however, we have evolved to LEED v4.0, which makes the Certified level of LEED v2.2 look like a no-brainer. In fact, much of what is included in LEED v2.2 is now part of the current Building Codes. While touring the several floors I wondered if the building would even qualify for any current LEED certification, because of the prolific use of glass everywhere.
I came away from the tour with mixed emotions. The design, vision, and execution is truly amazing and well thought out. I’m confident that it will serve its intended purpose for decades to come. Yet, I ask myself; what will the utility burden be for the taxpayer over its life span?
In the 1980’s I probably would have been a whole hearted supporter of the design concept. But, it isn’t the 1980’s. It isn’t even the 20th Century. We are living in a new Century, requiring bold attention to vital issues; issues that require a more sensitive approach to construction and the environment. If you were asked if you thought the Dr. Philips Performing Arts Center represented a sensitive, balanced approach to the environment, sensitivity to sustainable resources, and creative use of renewable resources . . . what would your response be? I know what mine is! If the taxpayer is going to be on the “hook” for a large portion of the $387 million dollar budget, not to mention the maintenance and utility bills of this facility, perhaps more attention could have been given to achieving a better environmental balance, instead of token compliance with the lowest level of LEED certification, from an outdated LEED v2.2 guideline. Perhaps LEED Gold or Platinum would have been a more appropriate contractual requirement.
Leaving the construction site, I was left with the feeling that, although NET ZERO design has come a long way, we still have so much further to go. Too often sustainable and renewable design features get value engineered out as nice-to-haves, where the end product ends up more a reflection of the 20th Century. We can do better! We must do better!