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Inslee Tours Spokane Building That's Part Of "Five Of The Smartest Blocks In The World"

Doug Nadvornick/SPR

Spokane’s Catalyst Building at the south end of the University District received a visit Tuesday from an eager and interested state official, Washington Governor Jay Inslee.

The building is known for its main building material, cross-laminated timber, and its energy efficiency.Jay Inslee was once a presidential candidate whose main issue was climate change.

So when he came to Spokane and toured a building and neighborhood touted for so-called “smart energy” and “smart buildings”, he was fully engaged. Before his tour, Inslee and his wife Trudi received an orientation from Ash Awad, the president and chief market officer for the Seattle design firm McKinstry, one of the partners in the Catalyst Building.

“The building itself is striving to be zero energy, zero carbon and I’ll tell you a little bit more about it, but we did this at zero cost premium, which is really quite stunning," he said.

The building is occupied by McKinstry’s Spokane headquarters and by Eastern Washington University, which has moved its computer science, design and electrical engineering programs, among others, to the five-story building. It’s planning to also house a new computer engineering program there, says Eastern’s interim president, David May,

“Eastern is committed to pushing high tech, but high tech coupled with creative. You’re going to see some examples on the tour today of how our students, through some generous grants from McKinstry, are fusing high tech and creative in ways that wouldn’t be possible without this building around them," he said.

The Catalyst Building sits on land owned by Avista at the south end of the Gateway Bridge. Across the street is the Scott Morris Center for Innovation, a place where the company can test new ideas, says CEO Dennis Vermillion.

“It was Scott Morris, our current chairman and former CEO, who’s the one that decided, hey, let’s create the five smartest blocks in the world. It’ll be a place where smart grid meets smart city meets smart buildings. We provided the land to make it happen and here we are today," he said.

The Morris Center includes facilities where Avista works with new technology that allows it to better manage demand for electricity, as well as research new electricity options.

Inslee toured both buildings, then stopped to praise the entities involved.

“We have found instead of having these silos, the different enterprises, the architect, engineer, college, they put these people all together to do the design all together and that’s why they’re able to do this without additional cost associated with this clean energy usage. It’s remarkable what they’ve been able to do when they work together," he said.

Catalyst leaders thanked the governor and the state Department of Commerce for awarding three grants from the state’s Clean Energy Fund that have furthered work in progress there.