• Gunn Meyerhoff Shay

LEED and Our Healthy Savannah

Spoiler Alert: Chatham County’s Dr. Martha B. Fay Public Health Center has earned a LEED Gold certification, which will make it the first public health clinic in Georgia, and probably one of the first in the United States, to receive this recognition. LEED Gold certification is earned by design and construction of highly energy and resource conservative buildings, and strict verification that the rigorous standards have been met throughout construction and after occupancy.


Making a building that is as healthy as it can be makes sense, no matter what its purpose. A facility dedicated to helping all people achieve and maintain healthy lives is called a public health center. This is where community health planning is strategized, communicable diseases diagnosed and treated, environmental health monitored, birth and death certificates maintained, immunizations given, and where indigent patients can obtain health counseling. Unlike hospitals that treat people that are very sick, a public health center hopes to keep the public well.


Making a public health facility be a very healthy building seems logical, but very few are, in fact, healthy buildings. Due to the commitment of Chatham County’s Board of Health to the Healthy Savannah Initiative created during former Mayor Otis Johnson’s leadership, we are fortunate to have both a dedicated public health strategy and a very healthy building. Gunn Meyerhoff Shay and Rives E. Worrell / JE Dunn were selected two years ago to design-build our new facilities after a challenging competition, but the challenges just began there. After starting the project, the design-build team was notified that the budget had to be reduced from $10M to $8.5M, without reducing the programs to be housed within. Also there was a requirement for at least 50% local and 20% minority and women-owned business participation in the final costs.


At this stage, it would have been easier for the design-build team to punt the LEED certification that had been promised, or reduce it to LEED Silver, but we chose to keep trying. Against all kinds of odds, the final result was 90% local and over 30% minority and women-owned business participation, and a LEED Gold! And the building was completed on schedule and slightly below budget, too. This was possible because the architects, engineers, and builders all worked closely as a team with complete commitment to meeting the project goals.


The healthy new building is highly energy conservative, saving about 30% of the energy cost of other similar buildings, with balanced daylight, high tech lighting controls, VRF heating and cooling, and the most efficient exterior wall system that our engineers had ever modeled. It also will be much less expensive to maintain due to its durable construction materials. Most importantly, it will have excellent indoor air quality, with no volatile organic chemicals, and highly filtered and treated air conditioning equipment. Some areas even have ultraviolet light-treated air to help kill germs!


We would like to thank the State of Georgia, Chatham County, and the Chatham County Board of Health for allowing us to prove that it is possible to build an extremely healthy building on a tight budget, and using local people to design and build it. Let’s hope this building will become a paragon for our community’s next generation of new, healthy buildings!

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©2018 Gunn Meyerhoff Shay Architects, PC 

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