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[Editor's Note: This summer, CaryCitizen is rich in talented, smart interns. We sent Austin Cooper, a rising senior at UNC Chapel Hill, to cover the opening of Fire Station #8, a "climate showcase" building designed with environmental sustainability in mind.
"How was it?" I asked Austin on the phone. Long silence. I could sense his disapproval. "C'mon" I said, "it was a sunny day, the flag was waving and the band was playing. Didn't you get even a little thrill of patriotic excitement?"
Reluctantly: "Not really," Austin said. I waited. "It's just a little odd to build a climate showcase firehouse in the middle of a huge development project right next to the regional watershed."
I could not deny the paradox. "This story is supposed to be a valentine," I explained to him. "Hagiographic," I added, flashing my massive vocabulary. Austin corrected my pronunciation.
"So you want me to drop the paradox part?" he asked. No, I didn't.
In our great debate about Imagine Cary (a powerful and important exercise, I believe), we've wondered what has happened to the voices of the Millennials in our community. Here now is the voice of one Cary Millennial on the dedication of Fire Station #8 and the true question of sustainability.
In keeping with our editorial policy, we've classified this story under Opinion. Please feel free to respond respectfully in the comments.]
Story by Austin Cooper, editorial intern. Photos by photo intern Brian Speice.
Cary, NC – For a mid-morning in mid-June in Cary, the weather was perfect. Perhaps the suited presenters were a bit warm in the sun, perhaps the firemen and police officers wished they had short-sleeved uniforms, but no one in shorts was sweating.
We couple hundred townspeople, elected officials, and public servants were gathered in the light-colored (dark asphalt absorbs too much heat) driveway of Cary’s first green-built fire station, located at 408 Mills Park Drive, to celebrate its grand opening. Pomp and circumstance were richly supplied, courtesy of the Cary Town Band and the Cary Honor Guard.
Invited speakers included Mayor Weinbrecht, representatives for Senators Burr and Hagan and Congresswoman Elmers, as well as Beth Craig, the director of the EPA’s Climate Showcase Communities Program. Council members Jennifer Robinson (District A) and Ed Yerha (At-Large) were also in attendance, along with Town Manager Ben Shivar, Police Chief Pat Bazemore and Fire Chief Allan Cain.
A grant from the EPA’s Climate Showcase Communities Program of approximately $115,000 helped to defray the costs of Fire Station 8’s bevy of green technologies. The total project cost was $5.9 million.
Fire Station 8 will generate up to 13% of its electricity needs via a photovoltaic (PV) solar array on the roof. The building also features a solar hot water heating system, which is expected to reduce the natural gas costs incurred by hot water heating by approximately 75%. Along with careful selection in building materials, Fire Station 8’s solar technologies are expected to provide over $10,000 of annual savings in electrical and natural gas costs.
The building will also excel in water efficiency thanks to low-flow fixtures, dual-flush toilets, and fixture metering. Landscaping decisions were made with sustainability in mind, too: plants and trees were chosen that do not require permanent irrigation. In the future, Fire Station 8 will connect to the Town’s non-potable water (gray water) system, further reducing potable water consumption.
More than 10% of the construction materials were sourced within 500 miles of the project, which reduced transportation costs. Another 10% of the materials contain recycled products. And all paints, adhesives, sealants, carpet, tile, and rubber flooring have low-VOC (volatile organic compound) content, which will help maintain high indoor air quality.
Fire Station 8 will be fully operational on July 31. The 14,410 square-foot facility will house a full engine company and was built to also accommodate a ladder company and battalion chief in the future. A new police substation is also on-site, which the Town plans to staff daily from 8am to 5pm.
From its cutting-edge technologies to its sizable staff, Fire Station 8 represents a substantial investment in Western Cary. I wonder, though, if it is truly a sustainable one.
I don’t mean to quibble with the engineers’ estimates or belittle the architects’ vision. I do believe that – compared to a conventionally built fire station in the same location – Fire Station 8 will be significantly more frugal with the Town’s environmental and financial resources.
I’m just not yet convinced that solar panels and dual-flush toilets are an adequate environmental recompense for building Cary’s 8th fire station just a few miles from the Chatham County line.
The more Cary’s residential developments sprawl towards Jordan Lake, the more cars we have on the road and the more distance they have to travel every day. This can only lead to more transportation-induced greenhouse gas emissions – and that does not sound like a Climate Showcase Community to me.
While I applaud the Town’s design at the building scale, Fire Station 8 offers us an opportunity to consider some regional-level sustainability concerns.
If we are really serious about climate change, Cary needs to embrace sustainability not only in its building practices but also in its approach to land-use, zoning, and transportation policies by encouraging compact, mixed-use, transit-friendly developments that reduce automobile dependency.
Otherwise projects like Fire Station 8 may fuel complaints of hypocrisy (or chicanery) that was neither foreseen nor intentional.