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Cincinnati's Net-Zero Police HQ Follows Dictum of Sustainability, Green Living

The police department's new District 3 headquarters building is equipped with 40 geothermal wells, solar panels that can generate 330 kilowatts of energy, and 29 energy zones that allow for unused systems to be turned off.

On July 1, Cincinnati Police District 3 celebrated the opening of a new net-zero energy facility that now serves as its headquarters, replacing a facility at a different site that was in use since 1907.

The new solar-powered building is expected to consume less than 50 percent of the energy used by traditionally designed facilities of the same size. Built by Messer Construction, the new facility follows the city’s dictum of sustainability and green living, said Joel Koopman, facilities manager for the city of Cincinnati.

Designing the building to be a net-zero energy facility, which means it consumes less energy than it generates, cost the city $900,000 of the facility’s $16 million budget, Koopman said.

“It’s not too hard to see it paying for itself over the 50 to 100 years we use the building,” Koopman said, adding that a similar police district of the same size spends about $140,000 annually on gas and electric bills. “If we hit net-zero here, that’s five years.”

The new facility, built in Cincinnati's Westwood neighborhood, is about 39,000 square feet and will house about 200 employees. It's equipped with 40 geothermal wells, solar panels that can generate 330 kilowatts of energy, LED light fixtures, and 29 energy zones that allow for unused systems to be turned off. 

The city conducted a “door blower” test that demonstrated how well the facility retained air, Koopman said. “The building’s tight. It’s really well insulated.”

Of all the technology used, Koopman said, the most crucial element was getting the police to buy into the idea.

“Usually the problem with any energy project or security project is the people who sit inside, the people who prop the doors open, the people who plug in 15 extra things,” Koopman said. “Police have a very, you would think, set way of thinking, but this wasn’t just chiefs and the assistant chiefs. This was down to the officers we talked to. They understood what we were doing because it has a money impact. … [and] the importance of energy conservation is actually starting to become part of second nature for everybody and being sustainable, not just saving money.”

Maintaining the technology in the building doesn't requires anything special beyond that of a non-net-zero energy facility, Koopman said. Transformers and panels for the solar system are all fairly common today, he explained — it’s just the way that everything is put together that makes the building special.

“The best technology we used for this whole thing was communication,” Koopman said. “Through the whole process we had 14 neighborhoods involved in picking the site, going through the design proposals, giving input. When we put it under contract, they were involved in the finalization of the design and what we called the 'community art' so that this became more their district than the police department.”

Colin wrote for Government Technology and Emergency Management from 2010 through most of 2016.