After 30 years in downtown Palo Alto, the Palo Alto Weekly is moving to new headquarters -- an environmentally friendly, three-story building in the California Avenue business district.
The 10,000-square-foot facility at 450 Cambridge Ave. was recently constructed by the Weekly's parent company, Embarcadero Media, in conjunction with local developer Jim Baer. The $5 million building features numerous "green" elements, including energy-efficient heating and cooling systems, a permeable driveway to capture water run-off, and recycled and locally manufactured building materials.
Beginning Monday, the headquarters will house the day-to-day operations for both the Palo Alto Weekly and its sister newspaper the Mountain View Voice and their associated websites.
The papers are printed off site.
Bill Johnson, Weekly founder and Embarcadero Media president and CEO, said he expects the facility to be the first in Palo Alto to qualify for LEED Gold certification, an industry standard that denotes exceptional environmental benefits. (LEED stands for "Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design"; the rating system was developed by the United States Green Building Council, a nonprofit organization dedicated to environmentally and socially responsible design.)
"While it added considerable complexity and cost, Jim Baer inspired us to use this project as an opportunity to demonstrate our commitment to the highest sustainable building practices and to create an energy-efficient building that will create a healthy and comfortable environment for our employees," Johnson said.
Baer, who managed the development and construction process, said that despite the added challenges, the initial decision to "go green" was easy.
"We jointly made the decision as a display of leadership," said Baer, owner of Premier Properties Management and a longtime environmentalist. "We should all be on that learning edge of what sustainable building means. If not us, who?"
In building the new Weekly headquarters, contractors used recycled materials -- steel, carpet, ceiling tiles, concrete and more -- for about 20 to 30 percent of the building, according to Jason Schlutt of Compass Solutions, a San Mateo-based consulting firm that worked on the Cambridge Avenue project. About 15 to 20 percent of the building is made from materials that were manufactured or extracted regionally (within 500 miles).
The wood for stairwells, handrails, cabinetry and more came from certified-sustainable forests, Baer noted.
Employees will use about 47 percent less water than they would in non-green building, due to such features as automatic on/off fixtures, Schlutt said.
The building will save 25 percent more energy than national industry standards for a building of its size and use, Schlutt said.
In addition, the Weekly's headquarters features bike storage and a shower for bicycling employees, preferred parking for carpooling workers and those driving fuel-efficient vehicles, maximum natural light inside the office and air-quality monitors that will bring fresh air in when needed. No chlorofluorocarbons, which degrade the Earth's ozone layer, were used in the heating and cooling system. Paints containing little or no volatile organic compounds, which are harmful to health and the environment, were used.
Baer said that the greatest challenge of the building was energy management due to the placement of the building on the site. With limited options for shading the windows from sunlight, the architects opted for thicker, insulated glass and a more expensive air-conditioning system.
Schlutt, an environmental consultant since 2001, said the local trend in green building is picking up momentum, in part due to cities such as Palo Alto that are mandating environmental practices from developers.
"They're making it a requirement now instead of an option," Schlutt said.
The city's Green Building program was launched July 2008 and covers energy and water efficiency, greenhouse-gas reductions and waste diversion.
The program forces developers to plan for sustainable fixtures and systems "early on" in the project, he said.
(The Weekly's new building was approved prior to the adoption of the new requirements, Johnson noted, but its design far exceeds them.)
Other governments, including Mountain View, Sunnyvale, San Jose and San Francisco, also have adopted sustainable-building policies.
In addition, the costs for building green are dropping, which could encourage more environmental construction, Schlutt said. As recently as four years ago, the additional costs to "go green" might have totaled 20 percent of the whole; now, it's more like 5 percent, he said.
That's due to more manufacturers producing sustainable products, he said. Recycled carpets, for example, are not much more expensive than those made from new fibers.
"It's the big thing. It's sexy now — green building," said Schlutt, whose own career has gradually shifted more toward green consulting and away from project management in the past three years because of the demand.
In addition, cities are providing financial incentives to developers, including rebates. Schlutt estimated that the Weekly would recoup about half the expense of "greening" the building. And then, there are the potential energy-cost savings.
Though the Weekly's headquarters may become the first LEED Gold-certified building in Palo Alto, there will likely be more coming. Baer has founded a nonprofit organization, Wave One, that is helping building owners to go green. Its goal is to upgrade 100 existing buildings in the city to qualify for LEED certification over the next three to four years, he said.
As for the Cambridge Avenue property, although Baer jointly purchased it with Embarcadero Media in 2006, the media company will buy out his interest in 60 days, Johnson said.
"Financially, we couldn't have picked a worse time to undertake this project," Johnson said. "The recession has sharply reduced advertising revenues and like all media companies the Weekly has had to do a lot of belt-tightening. But in the long run, paying a mortgage instead of rent will benefit the company, create stability and provide a better work environment for our employees. I just wish we had done this 25 years ago."
The Cambridge Avenue building was designed by the Hagman Group in San Jose; the general contractor was Cody-Brock Inc.
Founded in 1979, the Palo Alto Weekly is part of the Embarcadero Media chain, which includes six Bay Area news organizations. The company is owned by mostly local shareholders.
The Weekly rented an 8,600-square-foot building on High Street from 1981 until now.
In the future, the new headquarters may also house staff from another Embarcadero Media news operation, The Almanac.