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Published: Friday, 10/9/2009

United Way opens doors to greener, sleeker facility

BY JC REINDL
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Nine months after breaking ground next door on a new headquarters, the United Way of Greater Toledo is ready to jettison its old lodgings and move in.

The $4.9 million two-story building is smaller, sleeker, greener, and cheaper to occupy than its jagged brown neighbor at 1 Stranahan Square, which the United Way has called home since 1969. The new 24,600-square-foot facility at Jackson and North Superior streets is set to open Monday.

The brighter and airier interior also will herald a permanent adjustment for the nonprofit organization's employees, some of whom are giving up private offices in the old building to sit among clusters of open work stations.

Most employees, regardless of department, will work in the same second-floor room. Community outreach staff, including the agency's 211 hot line, will work communally but on the ground floor.

The new 24,600-square-foot United Way building sits at Jackson and North Superior streets. The new facility, which uses energy-efficient technologies, is to open Monday.
<br>
<img src=http://www.toledoblade.com/graphics/icons/photo.gif> <font color=red><b>PHOTO GALLERY</b></font>: <a href=" /apps/pbcs.dll/gallery?Site=TO&Date=20091009&Category=NEWS16&ArtNo=100909998&Ref=PH" target="_blank"> <b> New United Way building</b></a> Oct. 9, 2009 The new 24,600-square-foot United Way building sits at Jackson and North Superior streets. The new facility, which uses energy-efficient technologies, is to open Monday. <br> <img src=http://www.toledoblade.com/graphics/icons/photo.gif> <font color=red><b>PHOTO GALLERY</b></font>: <a href=" /apps/pbcs.dll/gallery?Site=TO&Date=20091009&Category=NEWS16&ArtNo=100909998&Ref=PH" target="_blank"> <b> New United Way building</b></a> Oct. 9, 2009
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"No closed offices here," said Bill Kitson, the United Way's president and chief executive officer. "We'd like to think that the efficiency - the ability to have a shared environment - will offset the loss of individual offices."

The CEO said the United Way's former offices are to be knocked down within months, a controversial decision among some downtown advocates and preservationists.

"We shouldn't be rushing to demolition," mayoral candidate Keith Wilkowski said yesterday. "It has some unique architectural elements to it … I would like to see it preserved, and I don't think we've exhausted all options for the building."

Mr. Wilkowski compared the structure's fate to that which once faced the historic Gardner Building at Superior and Madison Avenue, before preservationists' sentiments prevailed.

The United Way structure was originally called the Community Services Building, as it was built to house multiple community agencies. Occupied by 37 tenants in 1973, only 11 remained last year.

Mayoral candidate Mike Bell was less interested in seeing the structure saved.

"It's their building and it's on their property," he said. "So it's their option on what they want to do."

For the United Way, the new headquarters marks an adventure in spending money now to save money later.

Mr. Kitson said the old building, about 100,000 square feet, cost $800,000 a year to maintain, with about $400,000 of that recouped through tenant rent.

In contrast, the new building is estimated to cost $150,000 a year, thanks to numerous energy-saving features, from waterless urinals to a white rooftop aimed at cutting "solar gain," he said.

The United Way will be the building's sole occupant.

The CEO said that the money saved will allow the United Way to better carry out its mission - "so we can spend as little money here and as much money as possible in the community," he said.

"We're still downtown, we're still a strong organization, and we're still here to help people every single day," Mr. Kitson said.

He said the United Way intends to gain a demolition permit and raze the old headquarters, which he said had grown too costly to maintain.

The date with the wrecking ball is expected within months. A grassy park would be placed on the empty lot. The hope is to eventually sell that parcel.

"We believe that sitting vacant as a park will create more viability to a developer someday than an old empty building that nobody is going to want to renovate anymore," Mr. Kitson said.

The new headquarters - complete with all new furniture - features several floor-to-ceiling windows and an interior color scheme of soft green and burnt orange.

The structure was designed with energy efficiency in mind, and the United Way is applying for the U.S. Green Building Council's Silver LEED certification for environmentally friendly construction.

The building lacks a basement that in the original plans would have connected to the existing underground parking garage. Cutting out the basement saved

$1.2 million in construction costs, Mr. Kitson said.

The CEO stressed that no fund-raising campaign money went to the construction.

The United Way borrowed at just over 2 percent interest to finance the project and intends to pay the debt off by dipping into its "board designated fund," which functions as an endowment.

Mr. Kitson said United Way decided to borrow the up-front costs rather than dip into the designated fund because the fund's balance dropped from about

$20 million in earlier 2008 to $14 million by last February. The fund is back to about $20 million thanks to investment gains, he said.

The Collaborative Inc. and SSOE Inc. handled the new facility's design and engineering work, and Rudolph-Libbe was the general contractor.

Contact JC Reindl at:

jreindl@theblade.com

or 419-724-6065.



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