New Lazarus Could be one of the “Greenest” Buildings in the U.S.

Construction nears completion on The Galleria, the new entrance to the Lazarus Building from Town Street
Construction nears completion on The Galleria, the new entrance to the Lazarus Building from Town Street

In just a few days hundreds of employees from the Department of Job and Family Services will move into the re-conditioned Lazarus building at Town and High streets in downtown Columbus. The former department store has been retro-fitted so that now it’s considered an environmentally friendly “green” building.

Ride one of the old freight elevators at Lazarus and clearly visible is the old brick-and-mortar used to build the original store almost a hundred years ago. Brian Ezzell oversees the Lazarus reconstruction project.

“Well Freight #1 was originally rated at 64,000 pounds of capacity,” Ezzell says. I can’t imagine what they were bringing up and down in the building that was 64,000 pounds. But I figure, well they’re taking all the oodles of money and using the freight elevator to get it down to the vault!”

Once one of Columbus’s premier shopping destinations, Lazarus, at the corner of High and Town Streets, is actually a series of buildings that was erected over six decades and connected together. Now the complex is being converted to new state offices. Contractors have torn away walls to create wide-open workspaces and taken out floors to create multi-storey lobbies. A hard-hat-wearing Bonnie Crockett, who already works in the building at Ohio EPA, is showing off the nearly-completed Job and Family Services lobby.

“These color panels up here are cloth to help absorb the sound, Crockett says. “They have the same colored theme as we have next door on our side. The lighting is good over here, too.”

But there’s much more here than meets the eye. Unlike standard building materials, those in the new Lazarus building – including the paint, stains and carpeting – are designed to be environmentally friendly.

“When you’re in a typical building, all these finishes that you have, carpeting and urea formaldehyde materials create toxins in the air. And so all the material we have in the building are all low VOC – volatile organic compounds.

The U.S. Green Building Council has developed energy efficient building practices that it calls “LEED” — Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. The more green innovations that are implemented in a project the more green points are awarded; such as the use of recycled materials at Lazarus.

“In the lobby here we have terrazzo floors with recycled glass,” Ezzell says. “We have wheat board on the pilasters to create architectural details. Carpeting that we have within the space is all recycled content.”

Tons of old material were torn out during the renovation; steel and concrete in floors, old carpeting, ceiling and ceramic tiles, copper and tin. Contractors get LEED credit for keeping that material out of the landfill, diverting it instead to be recycled and used elsewhere.

“We’ve removed 11,000 tons of material from the waste stream out of the building; that’s 22,000,000 pounds,” says Ezzell. We’ve recycled 51% of that. And of course we saved the building itself; the building skin, the building structure which is in addition more material that would have wound up going into the waste stream as well. If you’d have torn the building down and not recycled any of it you would have filled OSU stadium four stories high in debris,” Ezzell says.

The new Lazarus will be green from the top down. Here on the roof a garden with some 60 varieties of flowering perennials and grasses is being put in. Ezzell says the plants will keep the roof cooler, manage storm water runoff, and hide mechanical equipment.

“You will see lots of different types of plants, both native and non-native to the area,” he says. “Most of what we have is flowering, so you’ll see a lot of color on the roof. It attracts bugs and birds and its own ecosystem of wildlife.”

The garden also plays a part in the storm water runoff system, designed to capture the first one inch of rainfall. This “gray water” will be stored in a new 40,000 gallon tank in the basement and in the 50,000 gallon Lazarus water tank on the roof, which is a Columbus landmark. Those 90,000 gallons will irrigate the garden and future rows of trees along Town Street, for use in the building’s cooling system, and to flush the building’s toilets. The bathroom sinks, incidentally, are connected to city water.

“The gray water system and sinks with low flow faucets, more aeration, less water, is estimated to save approximately 30,000,000 gallons of water a year, which is a lot of water,” Ezzell says.

Part of the water-saving component is the use of new waterless urinals. Each has a gel cartridge in the base which allows liquids to pass through, but does not permit sewer gas to escape. People touring one of the men’s restrooms said they liked the idea.

“I think that’s great. Nobody really wants to touch them anyway,” said one man. “It’s nice to walk up and walk away without touching a thing.”

Women seemed more impressed with the bubble bee target engraved just above the drain.

“Isn’t that cute?”

“Now that is it!”

“Isn’t that precious!”

In contrast to the old Lazarus, the renovated building has an abundance of light. The old windows were uncovered and replaced with high efficiency glass. Still the architects wanted more natural light at the building’s core.

“Getting daylight to penetrate from the exterior all the way back into the building is really tough,” Ezzell says. “So we actually removed parts of the floor on every floor and created this light well. Daylight comes into the center of the building and people who are living and working in that center portion now have daylight because of the light well.”

That cuts down on the need for electrical lighting. And it brightens the new vaulted lobby of the building’s main entrance from Town Street.

“It’s The Galleria,” Ezzell says. It used to be the Wall Street alleyway. You’d walk down here and it was a low ceiling and a rather scary looking space.”

Though most of the old Lazarus is now unrecognizable, Brian Ezzell says a few pieces of memorabilia may show up in the future.

“I had the absolute pleasure of going through the building before the store closed and I got to pick and chose anything I saw in the building that I considered historically significant. I have a whole section of bench seats, carpet and chintz pattern curtains from the Chintz Room.”

Several hundred Job and Family Services employees are scheduled to move into their new quarters on January 8th. Eventually they’ll number about 1200; another 600 work at the Ohio EPA. An OSU Urban Arts gallery will open just off The Galleria. The building still has vacancies on several floors.