A new public safety center in McFarland will be the first environmentally sustainable building of its kind in Wisconsin, according to village officials and architects on the project.

Set to break ground in September at the intersection of Holscher Road and Broadhead St., the 57,375-square-foot center will house the village’s police and fire departments and municipal court.

Representatives from Bray Architects, the Milwaukee-based architecture firm hired to spearhead the project, said the building will likely be the first ever net zero energy public safety center in the state.

“I believe the [public safety center] will really reflect the vision of McFarland, and it’s an amazing opportunity when we look through the lens of sustainability at what is likely to be the first net zero public safety center in the region,” said Matt Wolfert, president of Bray Architects.

Andrew Bremer, community and economic development director with the village of McFarland, said the village used the New Buildings Institute Zero Buildings Database to verify that claim.

“We believe it will be the first net zero public safety building in the state, according to our project architect and the New Buildings Institute Zero Buildings Database,” Bremer said. “There are certainly other net zero buildings in the state, but we think this would be the first public safety building that would be net zero.”

A net zero energy building is classified as any structure for which the yearly energy consumption is equal to the amount of renewable energy generated at the site in any given year.

In order to achieve that net zero outcome, McFarland’s public safety center will be home to a geothermal ore field and a building-wide photovoltaic solar panel system.

The geothermal ore field will be a group of roughly 50 ores buried 400 ft. beneath the parking lot, which will circulate water from underground into the building. The water will provide heat during the winter months and have a cooling effect in the summer.

Andrew Iverson, the lead architect on the project, said an array of solar panels will line the roof of the building and account for nearly 70% of the energy needed to keep the building running.

While the net zero energy production will likely save money in the long-run, investing in upfront sustainability costs hasn’t been a cheap venture for the village.

Since preliminary plans for the building were announced in September 2020, the price tag for the build is up by more than $2 million from an initial estimated cost of $16.9 million to a now projected $19.1 million.

Village Administrator Matt Schuenke said the jump in price can largely be attributed to sustainability costs and design additions to the lowest level of the building.

“Naturally, the cost has increased over time, the biggest jump… was the addition of the sustainability elements to achieve net zero, and on the construction side… about a $300,000 increase, most of which is attributed to additions in the basement design,” Schuenke said.

According to Schuenke, 75% of the funds for the project have already been attained, mainly through the borrowing of bonds and notes that he described as having “the lowest interest rates [McFarland] has ever experienced.”

The village did apply for a sustainability grant through the Wisconsin Public Service Commission (PSC) to help fund the geothermal ore field development, but Schuenke said the village was ultimately not awarded that grant.

“We were not successful in achieving an [energy innovation] grant for the geothermal, but of the 100 or so applications that were received by the PSC, there was only one municipality that was awarded funds... so unfortunately it was not a very municipal-friendly program this last year,” he said.

Next year, the village will have the chance to apply for another $4.5 million in borrowed funds for the project.

Schuenke did confirm that most of the cost figures are mere estimates at this point and likely to change once the bidding process concludes in August.

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