Waz up?

A talk with the chief about SN&R’s green-building future

The chief.

The chief.

Photo By Andrew Nilsen

SN&R buys a building, wants to make it green and pays Sena: Eco-Warrior Princess to write a weekly column about it.

I did what no one before me has ever done: I made the Boss Man answer to me! That’s right, ladies and gentlemen. Enough with those outrageous expectations of me being held accountable to the one who signs my paycheck. Authority can bite me. With strength pumping through my veins last week, I blindsided my boss Jeff vonKaenel, president and CEO of SN&R, and demanded that he give me an update on our green renovation of a building on Del Paso Boulevard. And oh, boy, was he shaking!

What’s the latest with our green building?

The remodeling estimates came in a lot higher than we anticipated. I’m sure we’re the first people that has ever happened to, and I don’t know why we’re so special. (Laughs.) This has challenged us to figure out how to create money out of nowhere, and so our contractor Mark Wright has been doing a great job figuring out how to make that happen.

So that’s why we’re so far behind schedule?

Yes. It’s given me tremendous new empathy for anyone doing development or remodeling.

Do you see how this is making my job harder?

(No answer.)

Um, moving on, tell me about the green aspect you’re most excited about for our building?

When we first got into green building, I thought we’d add solar panels or do real simple things. But I think what’s most exciting is the interplay between all the component parts and how working holistically with people who want to do innovative things can make such a difference. Seeing the innovation going on in the building industry is great. It’s also cool how not only are we going to have a green building that will save energy and use natural materials, but it’s actually going to make a much better workspace for our employees.

What’s not going to be green about our building?

I’ve learned there are three different buckets. There’s bucket A, which are things that are environmentally good and economical and make the building better. We’re doing a bunch of those things, like skylights and whole-house fans. The second group includes things that are marginally expensive but sometimes make sense and sometimes do not, depending on the nuances of your building. The third are things that are just plain stupid and cost a lot of money. Like porous concrete; maybe do dry wells instead, which would accomplish the same thing at the fraction of the cost. In terms of things we might have to cut back on, it’s the landscaping.

What lessons have you learned about green building in Sacramento from this process?

Green buildings are very different in Minnesota, Miami and Sacramento, and so what’s talked about nationally doesn’t necessarily make it true in Sacramento. So you have to look at your local conditions. … Do not treat building professionals like commodities. There are huge variations in how good they are, how smart they are, how dedicated they are and how well they play with others. Get the right people on your team. Try to recognize that innovative solutions are going to have people working together more, and that’s an exciting process.

The part of Del Paso Boulevard where we’re moving is a redevelopment area. What do you hope our presence will bring?

We expect other businesses would be more likely to move next to us, just like what occurred when we took over the building in Midtown, which had been vacant for years and years.

Do you worry that moving away from the city’s hub will make our paper less community-oriented?

I’m really pleased we moved into Midtown when we did, because Midtown was very similar to what Del Paso is now. I hope for the paper to always be a little bit cutting-edge, where we are willing to take risks. Even though it would have been much more economical for us, we didn’t move into a corporate business park because then we would not be a vibrant part of a community. Instead, we went to some place where we’d be more in the heart of things and by our mere presence hopefully help make things different.