Designing a Sustainable Future for Bremerton

Jul 10, 2012

Steve Rice grew up near Bremerton, Washington, where one out of five city residents lives in poverty, and where the median household income is almost $20,000 lower than the state’s median. In 1985, he returned to the city to set up his architecture practice - Rice Fergus Miller - with the goal of becoming a “community architect” and devoting his professional life to helping improve the city.

“Bremerton is what I consider a real place,” says Rice, founder of Rice Fergus Miller. “It’s a little bit rough around the edges in places. But it’s small enough that people know each other.”

Rice and his (firm) partners had a vision: develop a building that was not only a cornerstone for economic renewal but also environmentally efficient. Yet bringing the new building to life wouldn’t be easy. The site they identified had long since been abandoned, and the dilapidated structure it contained had been home to both squatters and pigeons over the years.

Bank of America, which had been providing depository, money management, and other services to Rice Fergus Miller for several years, arranged for an appraisal of the project by an expert in energy-efficient design. She agreed that the proposed building’s value would easily justify the necessary investment.

Shortly thereafter, Bank of America secured the financing for the construction of the firm’s new building.

“Our bank contact kept telling us, ‘You know, Bank of America is going to be there for you. I believe strongly in your company and what you’re doing,’” recalls Rice.

Rice Fergus Miller’s new office is a model of environmental sustainability: By reusing the bones of the site’s existing structure, the firm reduced waste in construction. The building uses less than 25 percent of the energy that a typical office building uses. It collects rainwater that it recycles to flush the toilets. Perhaps most importantly, it serves as a model to help Rice Fergus Miller spread the word about the environmental and financial benefits of green building.

The building is something more, too – a physical symbol of Rice Fergus Miller’s commitment to Bremerton. Even as the firm’s practice has grown and it has achieved strong success across the region, its heart has stayed in Bremerton. Rice Fergus Miller routinely makes its offices available on evenings and weekends to host community events, ranging from local board meetings to charitable fundraisers to classes on energy efficient design.

“I always saw that a place like Kitsap County needs an urban core,” says Rice. “And the fact that maybe over the span of a career that we could help make it healthy again was extremely exciting to me as an architect. I wanted to see if we could help make a city come back a piece at a time over the course of a career.”

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