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The Sandpoint Financial and Technical Center

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The Sandpoint Financial and Technical Center

The building's inner beauty is the best part of the story. With a sidebar on balloons

Panhandle State Bank’s new flagship building in downtown Sandpoint, appropriately named The Sandpoint Financial and Technical Center, (or Sandpoint Center for short) is by far one of the more impressive buildings in town. Located on the block encompassed by Fifth Avenue, Oak, Church and Fourth streets, and standing three stories tall, the building is hard to miss. Not that you want to miss it by any means; terraces, arches, huge windows, amazing brickwork and timberwork, along with an impressive front entrance - the building is beautifully constructed.

The Sandpoint Center pays tribute to the Northwest through its architecture. Walking through the revolving main door you enter into a 5,000 square foot atrium which showcases a flowing creek and lampposts that are the same as the ones seen on the streets of Sandpoint. From the atrium you can head on over to the Panhandle State Bank branch, grab a bite or an espresso at The Tango Café, or proceed to the spacious Community Room.

Looking at this huge building in downtown Sandpoint from the inside or out, it’s hard to see one of its most impressive characteristics: the use of green technology. Much of the building incorporates energy-saving techniques and technology in order to reduce operating costs as well as its carbon footprint. I spoke to Travis Kaul, Manager of the downtown site, recently concerning the green aspects of the building and the story he tells is amazing.

The first thing you notice - or maybe fail to notice - when you enter the building is the light. It’s a very gentle light and as you look up, you see a huge skylight running the length of the atrium. The skylight is a pre-designed, self-supporting system made by Kalwall, which consists of fiberglass sheets sandwiched together. This material provides 30 percent light transmission so the room fills with a soft light. There are two more pre-designed pyramid skylights on the east and west ends of the building.

On a similar note, all of the windows within the building are constructed with Solarban low-emissivity glass. These windows have 40 percent better insulation, they transmit 48 percent less solar energy, and are 72 percent more efficient at reducing ultraviolet energy than standard insulating glass. If you ever take a close look at the plants in the atrium you will notice they are artificial; Travis explained “the sunlight coming through the windows and skylight isn’t strong enough to support plant life and we would constantly be replacing the plants; plus gnat-like insects breed and would get blown around our system.”

The other major energy saving device is the air conditioning unit. While normally a heavy burden on a large building, the bank has used state-of-the-art technology in order to make the system much more efficient.

The HVAC system is capable of heating and cooling different parts of the building simultaneously. This means that during winter, the core of the building can be cooled while the exterior areas are heated, and vice-versa in the summer. The big point is that cooling comes at minimal cost because the building’s water loop system just trades energy from one area to another.

Where possible, all of the motors and fans have been equipped with variable frequency motor drives which means that when one area, or the entire building, doesn’t need the full capacity the motors can adapt so they don’t waste energy. Of course everything within the HVAC needs to be monitored and adjusted constantly. “All of the monitoring system is computerized so we rule out the risk of user error; basically there isn’t a person who can forget to turn a switch off - it’s all automated.” This comes in the form of the Building Energy Management System which is responsible for the equipment start up and monitoring of the buildings systems. At start up the BMS brings the temperature up in a controlled way that saves energy and places less electrical demand on the energy company. The BMS can also alert maintenance of a problem that might occur so it can be fixed before an excess of energy is lost, and it shows where the majority of the energy is used at what time so adjustments can be made to the entire system.

With all these innovations together, the building is so efficient that early in May the bank received a rebate check from Avista for $110,524 as an Energy Efficiency Incentive.     

Private groups working within the building also help contribute to the overall efficiency of the whole. The Tango Café, owned by Barney and Carol Ballard, utilizes some of its own technology and tactics to make it arguably the greenest café in Sandpoint. When Barney first told me about the Magnetic Conduction Converters they use in the café I thought he was pulling my leg. “Well we have magnetic conduction converters…” is how Barney started the sentence. “… No, no, I’m serious. We use steel pans in the kitchen, and when we put the pan onto the burner it automatically heats up. This means we aren’t using gas so there isn’t a pilot light on all of the time. The burner heats up almost immediately, and within seconds of removing the pan the burner is safe to touch.” A cost saving tactic that The Tango shares with the bank is when first starting up they don’t turn everything on right away. Instead, they stagger everything so there isn’t a spike in the energy demand. The café also recycles all of their cans, plastics, glass, tins, and they even compost. Plus the food is great too.

The main thing I got from Travis during my talk with him is that the building really is about the community, and you can see that just by walking in or driving by. The architecture looks great in downtown Sandpoint, and the atmosphere inside is really comfortable. With state-of-the-art conference rooms and lecture halls available for use, and areas to show local art, you get a feeling that this building will get plenty of use from a grateful community.

Thomas McMahon, a recent graduate of Clark Fork High School, medaled at state earlier this year for his design of a “green” low-income housing project.

Sidebar: What?! No Balloons?! by Trish Gannon

Panhandle State Bank’s new building in downtown Sandpoint incorporates state-of-the-art environmental technology, but little known is that other technology used in the building’s maintenance is also on the cutting edge of building practices.

For example, the building’s fire suppression equipment.

High on the walls in the main atrium lie a couple of small, innocuous silver plates that look a little like a piece of abstract art. What these plates do is shoot a radar beam across the length of the atrium area to detect smoke.

“If those beams “see” anything, the (outer) doors will pop open and huge pumps begin to suck in air from the outside to disperse the smoke,” explained Travis Kaul, manager at the downtown branch. The pumps are so massive, and so efficient, that within 60 seconds every bit of existing air in the building will have been replaced with outside air. “That deals with problems with smoke inhalation,” Kaul said. Smoke inhalation is responsible for 50 to 80 percent of all deaths associated with fire.

A drawback to the technology? If balloons are let loose and rise to the ceiling, blocking the radar beams, the system will think there’s smoke and kick into gear. So celebrate all you want in downtown’s newest community building, but leave the balloons at home.

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Thomas McMahon Thomas McMahon is a student at Albertson's College of Idaho who, when he's not playing some geeky video game or designing some new, award-winning engineering project, plays basketball and tennis. His study interest is engineering.

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