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PHARR, TEXAS — More than 200 special guests and 150 students from surrounding school districts celebrated the grand opening of Hidalgo County’s first “green” building this week by “flipping the switch.” The literal switch — engineered from a large breaker box with utility lights fused to the top — was used in place of traditional ribbon and scissors to officially open the Hidalgo County Pct. 2 Multi-Purpose Facility and Administration Complex to the public, but the flipping of the switch also had a deeper meaning. The action signified the achievement of the goals to improve the manner in which buildings are designed, built and operated; foster environmentally-responsible attitudes in government and of citizens; and to be a living, working classroom for students of all ages.
The Pct. 2 Multi-Purpose Facility and Administration Complex, located at 300 W. Hall Acres in Pharr, Texas, is the hub of county operations for the area. It houses the administrative offices of Pct. 2 Commissioner Hector “Tito” Palacios, a Health and Human Services clinic, a W.I.C. clinic, a substation for the tax assessor-collector, the Pct. 2 Constable’s Office, and offices for Justices of the Peace Rosa Trevino and Bobby Contreras. It is expected to serve more than 1,000 people daily. The complex features five wind turbines capable of producing a total of up to 2,000 Kw per month, two solar panel trellises expected to produce an average of 4,626 Kw per month of electricity, and 71 LED solar powered lights for the parking lot that should save approximately 12,000 Kw of power per month based on dusk until dawn operations. Other green features of the five-building complex include Insulated Concrete Forms (ICF) exterior walls, which provide for greater thermal resistance from the elements; recycled content metal doors and frames, vinyl tile flooring, ceiling suspension systems, and plastic laminates; paperless gypsum sheetrock; low VOC (volatile organic compound) interior and exterior paints; low water consumption plumbing fixtures; and energy-saving occupant sensor lights. This is “a model for private and public buildings in South Texas,” Salomon Torres, District Director for U.S. Congressman Ruben Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, said during the ceremony. Hinojosa was a vocal advocate for the passage of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, which was signed into law on Feb. 17, 2009. The Act pumped $3.5 million of federal funding into Hidalgo County through the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant (EECGB) Program to conduct a variety of energy efficiency programs and create jobs for the American people.
Of the total $3.5 million allocation for Hidalgo County, the Pct. 2 Multi-Purpose Facility and Administration Complex utilized approximately $822,000 to turn an ordinary facility into a high performance building — one that would reduce consumption of natural resources and minimize environmental impacts, increase the productivity of building occupants, decrease maintenance and utility expenses and provide an energy-efficient building within the constraints of typical construction budgets. Other financing for the $6.2 million complex came from county Capital Improvement Project bonds. The project created approximately 300 temporary construction jobs over the course of the 10 month building period and an estimated 10 permanent jobs.
“This is about providing services to the people in Hidalgo County,” said Pct. 2 Commissioner Palacios. “It’s about taking care of the needs of the people. And also, it is our first green building, the first government building in all of South Texas like this. We were thinking long-term when we built this. The immediate savings we will reap from the energy efficiency features will be about $30,000 a year, and that will increase as we expand on the project.”
Joking with the other elected officials in the audience who had indicated that they, too, wanted to construct a building as attractive and energy-efficient as the Pct. 2 Multi-purpose Facility and Administration Complex, Commissioner Palacios asked: “Who wants to be second?”
Accolades for the new facility and the leadership team that envisioned it abounded. Texas State Representatives Armando “Mando” Martinez and Sergio Munoz Jr. presented Commissioner Palacios with flags flown above the State Capitol in Austin, Texas, to display in the building. Godfrey Garza, Hidalgo County Drainage District No. 1 Director and emcee for the event, said Commissioner Palacios “demands passion and thrives on consensus building,” and “is a great custodian of all our taxpayer dollars.”
Victor Ortiz of Sol Technologies LLC – the local company that consulted and installed the wind turbines and solar lighting – said that government and private sector have a mutual interest in being responsible stewards of the environment.
Sol Technologies was one of six organizations that led a group of about 150 students — fifth graders from Pharr-San Juan-Alamo Independent School District’s North Alamo Elementary and eighth graders from Valley View Independent School District’s College Preparatory Campus — in environmental education activities following the official grand opening ceremony. The students received tours of the facility and heard presentations from vendors and other green organizations in the Rio Grande Valley on energy efficiency ideas for the home, recycling, energy production and consumption, wind and solar power, and groundwater runoff.
“This building is a teaching tool, a visible way to teach the community about sustainability,” Ortiz said.
Future long-term plans for the facility include even more collaboration with the schools. The precinct plans to develop a 4-acre park with environmental education displays between the Pct. 2 Multi-Purpose Facility and Administration Complex and a nearby middle school. Also planned are a rain water collection system and a detention pond.
“Something good is happening in Precinct 2 and the rest of the county,” Commissioner Palacios said.