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Midway on Higuera

With the City of SLO committed to building inward and upward to address needs for housing and new office space, the administrative folks over at Cal Trans District 5 were happy to have their relatively new building on South Higuera Street lauded as an example of desirable redevelopment.

On Aug. 30 they held a, “LEED Celebration and Tour” of the Midway Building at 22885 S. Higuera St. Disregarding for a moment the Pacific island theme, the spot was so named because its the shiny new-looking building halfway between their other SLO yards. It also houses the employees moved over from the Atoll Business Center on Laurel Lane. The new facility was recently certified as Gold under the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system.

The points based system was devised by the United States Green Building Council (USGBC) to, “evaluate the environmental performance of a building and encourage market transformation towards sustainable design.”

As such the building falls in line with the City’s goals to reduce carbon pollution as well the ideals behind their recent “power down” during the solar eclipse.

Cal Trans spokesman Colin Jones explains that the LEED Silver designation has been a part of the California Department of General Services’ guidelines for some time whenever a State agency leases or builds a new facility.

SLO-based In Balance Green Consulting, a company co-owned by SLO City Councilwoman Andy Pease, was able to massage the points towards a Gold rating with extra savings in water usage and electricity.

As the last time the SLO City News wrote in depth about the site at 2885 S. Higuera St. was to detail the efforts of 54 residents in the nearby neighborhood to shut down the unsanctioned “boutique winery and custom crush operation” there in 2013, the transformation has been remarkable indeed.

Dating to the 1960s, the warehouse structure was conceived as a storage building, and then repurposed for light industrial use, ending most recently with what the consultants termed the, “small viticulture processing plant.” The rebuild, financed by the landlord under an eight-year lease agreement, turned the space into just under 36,000 sq feet of office, with private rooms and conference facilities overlooking the San Luis Cemetery, near the SLO Elks Lodge across Higuera St.

In the year since the move, said Cal Trans’ facility directors giving the tour, only two significant changes have been necessary to suit the site, and for the good of the surrounding neighborhood.

A more complex drainage system has been installed in the rear parking lot with a series of French drains to collect run off on the hillside embankment, and the overnight lighting in the lot has been scaled back at the request of some of those same 54 neighbors.

By contrast the building has room for between 160 and 175 state employees on two “cubical farm” levels, a trick of the design for a structure that originally only had capacity for a plywood mezzanine level to one side.

More than 80 percent of the original structure was repurposed, but the entire interior has been fitted with modern materials and “Smart” fixtures that could theoretically see the building through another 50 years.

Of course for the folks spending the rest of a professional career in the building, there are still comfort issues to be worked out. While the central air and lighting systems are deemed “smart” in computerized modern standards that does not equate infallibility.

Automated lighting has interesting quirks and as long as individual cubicles require their own space heaters and fans for individual comfort, the real world savings is debatable.

Never-the less, Pease was quick to point out, “It’s exciting that the State is committed to sustainability and that they’re willing to invest in us, to staying in SLO.”

Reuse of the building especially, she added, is an example of the kind of infill the City is going to need going forward.

As for longevity, Jones said, “We’re a good tenant, same as we were a the Atoll building…and we try to be good neighbors.”

-Story and Photos by Camas Frank

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