Indigo's New Police Services Building Uses California-Grown Rice Straw

DPSC PV view.jpg

When City of Dublin, CA officials planned for a new Police Services Building at the Public Safety Complex, they looked way beyond just conventional building approaches. Their new building, features the use of sustainable, straw bale construction.  This energy-efficient building is under construction and when complete, will be a beautiful addition to the civic architecture of Dublin, but it will also contribute to the viability of California’s agricultural regions. This exciting project is a win-win for the City of Dublin and the environment.

Designed by Indigo l Hammond + Playle Architects, LLP of Davis, this building targets LEED-Gold and is certified to the highest-level of code requirements for civic buildings, including rigorous earthquake safety provisions ensuring that this building will be there to serve during emergencies. The 36,000 square-foot Police Services Building is being constructed by Sausal Corporation, Concord, at a cost of approximately $15 million and is expected to be complete by the end of this year. Indigo built the first straw bale public safety buildings in the United States for the City of Visalia in 2007 and is an expert in the design of sustainable, energy-efficient buildings.

California produces the largest medium and short grain rice crop in the United States, with most of its exports shipped to Asia.  Rice straw left in the fields must be removed or composted before the next growing season. Approximately one million metric tons of straw are generated each year, with only 3-5% taken off-field for productive use. About 8% is burned, and the remaining 90% is kept in-field to be decomposed via tillage and winter flooding. While the resulting wetland habitat is now critical waterbird habitat for the Pacific Flyway, this decomposition method is the most expensive approach, so increasing off-field consumption is economically useful. Once baled and removed from the field, straw makes an excellent and highly-sustainable building material, reducing reliance on the import of manufactured materials, helping create energy-saving buildings, and reducing the release of greenhouse gas to the atmosphere.  It is the perfect use for this renewable, agricultural waste product.  

The main benefits of building with straw bale is the increased thermal insulation and mass of exterior walls in buildings resulting in long-term energy savings. Acoustical performance is also enhanced with thick, strong, and durable strawbale walls whose rustic plaster finish results in a pleasing look, reminiscent of “adobe” buildings and an aesthetically marketable building product.  Walls built in this way are also highly fire-resistant.

·         DURABLE, QUIET, AND FIRE-RESISTANT.  Reminiscent of traditional “adobe” construction, strawbale buildings are strong, durable, and highly fire-resistant.   They are effective at shutting-out freeway and other environmental noise, resulting in quieter spaces in which to live and work.

·         AESTHETIC APPEAL:  Thick, plaster-finished strawbale walls are consistent with the Central Valley’s beloved Mediterranean-style civic buildings and are evocative of California’s cultural history.

·         LOWER UTILITY BILLS.  Energy-efficient strawbale walls provides more than twice the thermal insulation of standard construction.  Utility bills are greatly reduced since there is less heat loss in the winter and less heat gain in the summer.  The additional building mass provided by strawbale serves to reduce indoor temperature variation, improving the thermal comfort of occupants.

·         SUSTAINABLE AND RENEWABLE: Rice straw is a locally available renewable product whose use in buildings reduces the environmental problem of rice straw left in the field.  At present over one million tons of straw are generated in California yearly, with only 3-5% taken off-field for productive use.  Using rice straw in public construction reduces the need for importing manufactured building materials and demonstrates government resolve to build responsibly and sustainably.  Straw bale qualifies for credit with the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program of the U.S. Green Building Council.