Company plans for `green' building

Old farmhouse to become environmentally friendly

March 10, 2003|By TaNoah Morgan | TaNoah Morgan,SUN STAFF

An old farmhouse turned lumberyard on Route 175 in Jessup soon will become a local showcase for environmental friendliness and an incubator for green company start-ups, if Stanley Sersen has his way.

The president of Architectural Support Group Inc., a Glen Burnie company that helps builders incorporate solar panels and windmills to condominiums and apartments, plans to transform the aged brown and yellow eyesore into an office, resource center, incubator and public educational facility for companies involved in building more environmentally friendly structures and recycling building materials.

The Environmental Design Resource Center will incorporate a number of features, including a facility to manufacture and sell a diesel fuel made from used vegetable oil, underwater tanks to collect and disperse rain runoff and windmill-generated backup batteries.

"We want to team up with other professionals that are as committed as we are," Sersen said. "With the increase in environmental awareness, professionals are interested in networking opportunities, and the center is going to provide that."

Environmentally friendly buildings - ones that incorporate energy saving features, environmentally conscious products and practices - are becoming more common since the federal government created standards for certifying buildings' effectiveness through the U.S. Green Buildings Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED).

In Maryland, then-Gov. Parris N. Glendening issued an executive order in 2001 requiring all new government buildings and leases of more than 7,500 square feet to become LEED-certified, and industry has responded.

Mark Bundy, the state Department of Natural Resources' representative to the state Green Building Council, also oversees an ad hoc group called the Maryland Green Building Network. Bundy said the number and types of companies becoming involved in building environmentally friendly buildings is expanding rapidly. More than 400 participants attended a conference on green buildings last year that was expected to draw about 250, he said.

"Interest is growing, and it's growing exponentially," Bundy said. "It's still a very small fraction of the total development that's occurring, [but] it leaves us with a great deal of hope and optimism that one day it will be a much larger component."

Sersen is expected to begin construction within weeks on the interior of the 3,500-square- foot building that is using the shell of an 1805 farmhouse. His company bought the building and three-quarters of an acre last year for about $270,000, and gutted the building, recycling most materials, he said.

Now the company is waiting for building permits and financing for the project, estimated at $300,000. Sersen said he has applied for low-interest financing available through local banks for projects that would help revitalize the U.S. 1 corridor.

Kevin Doyle, co-chairman of the U.S. 1 revitalization task force, said the office-incubator would be a unique use for the properties being revitalized in the corridor, and a smart one that could help the area grow.

"It's encouraging that somebody is looking to do something like that in the area," he said. "If nothing else, if it's a showcase, it's something that would draw positive responses. And builders and developers, when they come to find out how to build green buildings, perhaps they would think of looking at the Route 1 corridor and moving their businesses."

Sersen said he is hopeful his company and three others will be able to move into the office space by June. He said he would begin construction on the incubator, doubling the office space, and the biodiesel plant, another 5,000 square feet, as soon as he moves in, and expects it will be completed within 18 months.

He said he did not need zoning changes from heavy industrial for the biodiesel plant because the fuel is a vegetable oil byproduct, and safer than regular diesel because it burns only at 300 degrees or more.

Although his farmhouse project started as a means to expand his company, he said he's hopeful that it will be more.

"It has grown to be more of a contribution to the local area, and to the state," Sersen said. "Plus it's the environmentally right thing to do."

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