Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Deluxe at the Deaf School: Bike Parking for (the) Show

Almost certainly the most ambivalent moment on the Salem Green + Solar Tour yesterday took place at the Deaf School.

When we pulled up to the new Extreme Makeover Home Edition Dormitory, we oo-ed and ah-ed over the covered bike rack and dorm. They had been an extraordinary expression of community spirit, volunteering, and care. With that came a crazy media frenzy.

The parking looked fabulous.

But then we got closer to it.

The staple racks are huge! So huge, in fact, that they may not be fully usable. Here's a picture of a standard u-lock. Its inner diameter just fits the tube diameter - but that means the rack's tube takes up over half the space inside the lock! There may not be clearance for your bike's frame.

Even more jarring was the electricians tape over the bike's logos. They also had attached tagging. We realized these were prop bikes, donated and unused.

On the back side of the rack, we saw a full-on rain gutter and downspout!

We admired - and chuckled a little.

It was terrific to see a covered rack, visible, near the entry, and secure. At the same time, the parking complex was over-engineered and over-built to the point where was less useful than a simpler, less fancy, and less costly installation.

It raised the question: How much was for show?

The dorm's interior finishes raised the same question. Some of them didn't seem all that durable, and you had to wonder how dowdy the dorm might look after a decade - or even less - of kids living in it. Was, in fact, the building going to require a significant input of refurbishing energy and resources, well beyond normal maintenance, in the not-too-distant future. Just how sustainable is this building going to be under normal student wear and tear?

Coincidentally, the Oregon College of Art and Craft just got two new buildings on their campus. Brian Libby at Portland Architecture and Jeff Jahn at Port write about their design and execution.

The contrast is illuminating. One was an amazing community project, and cost only the hullaballoo of a TV show; the other two much, much more in absolute dollars. But what will be the difference in lifetime and life cycle costs?

No one knows the answers just now, but as Walker has asked in several posts over at LoveSalem, there are important questions about LEED, sustainability, and a project's life cycle. Green is more than just retrospective, more than just what it took to build something; green is also about the future, and what it takes to use and sustain something over the years, decades, and centuries. It seems like we are getting more and more of a handle on the first part, but still struggle with the longer, second part.

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