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It's a model project

If most architects were to pick a spot for a multi-story government building, a 50-foot near-cliff would probably not be their first choice.

However, the architects hired to design the new Kitsap County administration building for the courthouse campus in Port Orchard not only managed to make the building conform to the challenging slope of the site, they also managed to make the building a bastion of environmental- and user-friendliness in the process.

The proposed design for the new 70,000 square-foot building, displayed for the first time at Monday night’s Port Orchard City Council meeting, is possibly as different from the existing county courthouse as it is possible to get. Architect Sian Roberts, a principal at Seattle-based Miller Hull, went into great detail on the facility’s water recycling systems, its state-of-the art climate control and particularly its bank of windows facing Sinclair Inlet.

“We’re trying to bring as much natural daylight into the building as we can,” Roberts said. “That will reduce the amount of energy that’s used for artificial light.”

Having the majority of the windows on the north side of the building serves two purposes, Roberts explained. First, although the windows will admit plenty of light, they will only be exposed to a minimum of direct sunlight. This means workers inside will not be affected by glare and the building will remain cool even in the middle of the day.

“In an office building, you’re always in a cooling mode because of the equipment and the lights and the people,” Roberts pointed out.

The other benefit to north-facing windows is purely aesthetic — the administration building looks out onto what is widely considered one of the best vies of Sinclair Inlet and the Olympic mountain range.

This was a significant issue during the initial planning process. At an open house held in Port Orchard in December, many residents expressed concern that the county’s choice of site would monopolize what to this point has been a publicly accessible view point. Project lead Karen Ross explained on Monday that the building design will actually increase the public’s ability to catch a glimpse of the scenery.

“The important thing there will be lots of public access to the view,” she said. “Right now, unless they stand in the (county campus) parking lot, they don’t have an opportunity to appreciate the views.”

Vistas will also be accessible from the plazas and gardens incorporated into the facility’s site design. Roberts said making the building pedestrian-friendly was also a priority, despite the challenging grade.

The building, which will not need the same heavy security as the courthouse, will have two public access points — one across from the main courthouse entrance on Division Street and the other on the lowest level of the facility at Dwight Street. An open stairway paralleling Cline Avenue will connect the two streets on the outside; a stair-step floor design will do the same inside. Rooftop gardens and a garden-style park occupying roughly the same area as two current residential lots will help blend the multi-level design into the surrounding landscape.

“That will allow people going to the courthouse to have a little break area,” Roberts explained.

City Councilwoman Carolyn Powers, presumably picturing the steep slop of Cline, asked Ross and Roberts if it would be possible to replace the stairway with an escalator of some sort. Ross explained the the cost of an outdoor escalator would be prohibitive and pointed out the building would be fully disabled-accessible with at least one internal elevator. The primary purpose of the proposed design, Ross explained, was to make the most out of the $X million currently allocated for the facility.

“This project has pushed the limits of what money we have available,” Ross said. “This isn’t going to have a lot of frills.”

In fact, Ross explained further, most of the little “extras” in the design — like the giant windows — also serve a secondary energy- or money-saving purpose. The state-of-the-art cooling system proposed for the building, which cools from the floorboards up rather than from the ceiling down, is supposed to save money by reducing the amount of cold air which needs to be pumped in. The roof top garden will cut back on run-off, Roberts explained, and the rest of the flat roofs are connected to hidden cistern so any run-off can be used to irrigate the surrounding plantings.

The building’s location, set back into the side of the hillside, not only saves money on foundation costs but also allows the building to be passively cooled by the surrounding soil. Roberts said the design team is also looking for ways to passively ventilate the facility, thereby saving on electricity costs.

“This is early on, so we’re just brainstorming at this point,” she said.

Craig Curtis, the primary designer for the project, said this type of energy-saving design is something Miller Hull is known for. The firm previously did the design for both the Bainbridge Island City Hall and the Poulsbo campus of Olympic College. All three designs are based of the notion of creating a comfortable place for people to work while at the same time generating a welcoming appearance.

“The theory is that this building will make an impression on people who visit it,” Curtis said. “It represents the county government.”

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