Staten Island has long endured the reputation of being New York City's dumping ground. But with the support of the local community and state elected officials, the Staten Island Mental Health Society (SIMHS) aims to give the borough a greener image.

SIMHS, a not-for-profit agency that provides more than 20 programs for children, teenagers, and their families, recently embarked on an initiative to bring to life the first green office structure on Staten Island by creating an ecologically friendly center for children's mental

By 2010, simhs aims to transform this three-story building into a green office space for children's mental health services
By 2010, SIMHS aims to transform this three-story building into a green office space for children's mental health services. Photo and renderings by Michael Tormey

health services. Kenneth Popler, PhD, MBA, SIMHS president and CEO, says that it is a development that many in the community are welcoming with open arms, as it answers their call for a more sensitive approach to the environment.

The project, due to be completed by 2010, involves renovating a vacant, three-story, 13,000-square-foot building using green materials. The New York State Capital Assistance Program has committed $2 million to the $9 million project. Dr. Popler is especially proud of the contributions made by SIMHS's staff and board, both monetarily and through fund-raising events.

Serving almost one in ten Staten Island families each year, SIMHS aims to not only design a place where children and families will feel a sense of belonging, but also to renovate responsibly with an eye on helping to safeguard Staten Island's future through green design. The facility's plans include many green elements such as:

  • sloped photovoltaic solar roof panels (and possibly solar thermal collector panels) to generate electricity;

  • a state-of-the-art geothermal system for heating and cooling using underground pipes (ground water exchange columns will heat warmer underground water in the winter and cool ground-level water during the summer);

  • a green roof covered with plants and soil to provide more natural insulation, reduce urban heat buildup, and decrease storm water flow or flooding into streets;

  • solar “walls” on the stair tower to provide preheated fresh air in the winter;

  • energy-efficient lighting as well as occupancy sensors;

  • windows throughout the building to capitalize on daylight;

  • porous paving in the rear parking lot and on the side of the building to reduce storm water runoff;

  • water-efficient plumbing fixtures, including using recycled rainwater in toilets and waterless urinals; and

  • paints and finishes that are nontoxic or that have low levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) for improved air quality.

    When renovations are complete, the building will have many green features, including the exterior features illustrated here.

These features will not only meet SIMHS's desire for a greener building, but also will reduce its long-term energy costs. In addition, SIMHS plans to seek LEED certification (a national green building industry standard) and, if awarded, the building would be one of the few LEED-certified buildings in the city. In fact, these green elements have caught the attention of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

“Congratulations on your plans for the St. George office building. I certainly applaud your commitment to improving our City's environment,” Bloomberg wrote in a letter to Dr. Popler.

As the project has progressed, SIMHS has adjusted its plans to stay within its budget, working with LEED consultants and engineers to find a happy medium between cost and environmental considerations. SIMHS also has sought ideas from its clinical team on the functions of the building.

Once the renovations are complete, four of SIMHS's 25 programs will be transferred out of their current leased premises and into the new energy-efficient building. Dr. Popler notes, “The consolidation will benefit the families by providing all services in one state-of-the-art, environmentally friendly, energy-efficient facility.”

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