Northern Plains Resource Council - Billings, Montana

Home on the RangeNorthern Plains Resource Council LEED Platinum2003 - For more than 35 years, Northern Plains Resource Council has organized Montana citizens to protect their water quality, family farms and ranches, and unique quality of life. Northern Plains is a founding member of WORC (Western Organization of Resource Councils), which today represents a regional network of seven Western organizations, providing technical assistance and coordinating efforts on issues such as sensible energy development and sustainable agriculture.

In 2003, Northern Plains and WORC decided to create a permanent home by purchasing and renovating its own building, a building that would express the organizations’ commitment to energy conservation and community values.  They purchased a vacant, concrete block building constructed in 1940 as a grocery store and tasked the architect with creating a demonstration green building on a very tight, non-profit organization budget.  The resulting design transformed an uninsulated,

largely windowless building—widely considered one of the most blighted properties in Billings, Montana—into a LEED® Platinum certified building that is among the nation’s most energy-efficient buildings. 
The building houses the central offices for WORC and Northern Plains.  This includes community organizer office spaces, private offices, multiple conference rooms, a small kitchen and restrooms.  The floor plan is organized around a gallery/circulation space that diagonally connects the two principal building entrances for optimal egress while simultaneously dividing the floor into two different office areas.  Because the street grid in downtown Billings and the building are oriented 35 degrees off of cardinal directions, the diagonal of the gallery runs almost exactly east-west, providing optimal solar orientation for the clerestory monitors and photovoltaic panels.  The diagonal, exposed existing roof framing with skylights above creates an energetic, dynamically lit gallery and reception space.

The design team used the following strategy to reduce fossil fuel consumption:

  1. Reduce the energy demand by optimizing the thermal envelope and using high performance, operable windows and skylights and locating them to take full advantage of daylight & natural ventilation.    High levels of insulation on the roof, walls, windows, and subgrade reduce heat transfer through the envelope, while interior temperature fluctuation is further moderated with high levels of mass in both the floor slab and concrete block walls, which are insulated on the exterior.  The design team made use of daylighting strategies modeled by the Lighting Design Lab in Seattle to reduce lighting energy considerably.   
  2. Supply remaining energy needs efficiently.  The building uses radiant floor heating, evaporative cooling, which is particularly effective in the dry climate, and daylight sensors on electric lights.  
  3. Maximize percentage of remaining energy from renewable sources. A 10 kW photovoltaic system provides approx. 50% of the annual electric load for heating, cooling & lighting.

Through a combination of these measures, the building uses a net 79% less energy than the ASHRAE-90.1-1999 base case for heating, cooling, and lighting; energy use is reduced 60% through the energy efficiency measures, while the PV system reduced fossil fuel energy a further 19%.
Through the use of a waterless urinal and microflush composting toilets, the building uses 60% less water inside than a comparable building constructed to code.  On the exterior, drought-tolerant, native landscaping combined with drip irrigation reduces water use by more than 50%.
Building elements that met sustainability goals also contributed to the architectural goal of “breaking out of the box,” as the existing building was a simple one story concrete block box. Adding towers simultaneously provided mechanical space for the evaporative cooling systems and marked the entries to the building.  The “virtual bays” also extend above the parapet, breaking up the box as well as acting as light scoops, harvesting additional daylight and emitting a “glow” when the sun shines on the backside of them. 
The towers and bays both have slanting walls that also flare outwards as they ascend, giving the building a dynamic posture and a counterpoint to the box.  With their sloping faces and different plan orientations, the rooftop monitors also activate the building, and, along with the towers and bays, provide secondary elements that work at the scale of passing automobile traffic.  The light shelves, present at all windows, give the box a more three dimensional presence while also providing a tertiary, pedestrian scale.  Taken together, these elements appropriately energize a building that houses two progressive organizations that engage the community.
These design strategies achieved a number of energy efficiency, water efficiency, and other green building goals while providing an exciting space for the client.  The most inventive solutions simultaneously addressed multiple project goals.  For instance, permeable paving made of recycled, pulverized glass eliminates stormwater runoff in all but the most severe storm events, while the reflective glass cullet mitigates the urban heat island effect and decreases the required wattage for parking lights.   In addition to meeting those goals, the project also captured the imagination of many people because there were a number of “human interest” stories: the
salvaged doors and relite windows used in the project, for instance, were from a 1906 building where Northern Plains Resource Council had previously had offices.  The building has also become the public face for an organization, physically representing the values for which they have always fought. 
But the biggest story of the project was the transformation of a derelict building into a significant demonstration, high performance green building at an upfront cost savings.  Renovating the existing building to a LEED Platinum standard cost less than $105/sq. ft. to build, resulting in construction cost savings of approximately 20% compared to a new building built to a conventional code minimum standard.  This was achieved by “listening” to the existing building so that reusable parts were creatively retained and by making the various new elements do double and triple duty.

Energy Star Information: Obtained via the EPA’s Energy Star Target Finder Tool

EPA % Energy Reduction: 51% (includes plug loads)
Site Energy Use Intensity: 46  kBtu/sf/yr
Additional Energy from Photovoltaic Panels: 5.38 kBtu/sf/yr
Energy Star Rating: 93 out of 100

Team Members

Architect:  Randy Hafer, High Plains Architects, P.C.
Civil Engineer: Matt Waite, Engineering Inc.
Commissioning Agent:  Ron Pecarina, Energy & Sustainable Design Consultants
Contractor:  JD Broadbent, Hardy Construction
Developer: Electrical Engineer:
Interior Designer: Beau Mossman, Bechtle Slade, P.C.
Landscape Architect: Linda Iverson, Linda Iverson
Landscape Design LEED Consultant:  Ed Gulick, High Plains Architects, P.C.
Mechanical Engineer:  Art Fust, Energy A.D.
Owner:  Northern Plains Resource Council
Structural Engineer:  Wes Krivonen, Krivonen Associates