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By Shelby Mack / The Californian
BY COURTENAY EDELHART Californian staff writer firstname.lastname@example.org
In a bittersweet reminder of what might have been, the U.S. Green Building Council has bestowed a plaque noting gold certification on the building that now houses the Chase bank branch at 4814 Panama Lane.
The plaque is two years late, but because the recession had felled all the companies involved with the project, it took a little while to figure out who should receive it.
Chase didn't build the branch. It originally was one of five branches of San Joaquin Bank, which federal regulators shut down in 2009 over liquidity and solvency concerns.
Adding insult to injury, the architecture firm that San Joaquin hired to design the building also is no more. Renfro & Cunningham became part of Minneapolis-based Cunningham Group in 2005 after its principal architect sold the firm and retired. Cunningham Group shut down the Bakersfield location earlier this year as part of a larger consolidation of offices nationwide.
The local firm that designed the bank building was run by architect Donald Renfro and his interior designer wife, Nancy Renfro.
The bank building was certified gold for a host of environmentally friendly elements, including rooftop solar panels, carpet made from recycled materials, concrete walls that worked with a more efficient heating and cooling system to hold down climate control costs, and landscaping and irrigation designed to use less water.
The building achieved LEED NC certification at the gold level on Feb. 3, 2010, but there was no one to receive the plaque that went with the certification, Nancy Renfro said. ("LEED" stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design and the "NC" indicates new construction.)
San Joaquin no longer existed, and the building was unoccupied for a time before Chase bought it from Citizens Business Bank. Ontario-based Citizens purchased all of San Joaquin's assets when San Joaquin closed in 2009, but Citizens decided it didn't need the Panama Lane branch.
The U.S. Green Building Council finally tracked down Nancy Renfro last month, and she handed the plaque over to Chase on Tuesday.
"They just had a belated plaque ceremony," said council spokeswoman Jennifer Easton.
Better late than never, Nancy Renfro said.
"It's a terrific thing because firms come and go, but that building is going to be here, and it's an example of what can be done with a sustainable building," she said. "It takes very little water, and it thrives in this climate with minimal care."
Present owner Chase said it was aware of all the green amenities when it purchased the building.
"It was something that the previous owner was very proud of, and we get compliments from customers about it all the time," said branch manager Raul Alcaraz. "They can tell the difference in air quality when they come in from outside, and the lighting is amazing with all the windows. It's incredibly welcoming."
Former San Joaquin president and CEO Bart Hill, now director of development for major gifts at the Cal State Bakersfield Foundation, declined to comment.
The lead architect on the project was Ken Svendsen, now a project manager for Kern County's Construction Services Department.
He called it "really frustrating" that San Joaquin wasn't able to receive the plaque. The community bank deserves credit for committing to construct a cutting-edge building and seeing it through, Svendsen said.
He also said he's sorry the architecture firm he used to work for had to close.
"We did good work," he said. "But I like where I'm at now, so I'll just do good things for the county."
According to the council, as of July 1 there were 17 LEED-certified projects in Kern County at various levels: eight are "certified," four are "silver" and five are "gold."