Earth Day was last week, but every day will be environmentally conscious at five church buildings that are part of a new pilot program recently launched by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. On Tuesday, church officials conducted a tour of the first of the new buildings to be completed, a stake center in Farmington.

The Farmington building has a range of environmentally friendly features, highlighted by an array of 158 solar panels on the south-facing slope of the building's roof. The panels have a 25-year warranty and Jared Doxey, church director of architecture, engineering and construction, said church engineers estimate that the solar array will reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 2 million pounds over the term of the warranty.

The electrical generation capacity of the array is such that, over the course of a year, the Farmington building will completely supply its own power needs, saving thousands of dollars. The building will draw from the local electrical grid during peak usage times, such as Sunday worship services, but will funnel power back into the grid on other days.

One of the other eco-friendly buildings being constructed is located in Eagle Mountain. The other three are in Pahrump, Nev.; Logandale, Nev.; and Apache Junction, Ariz.

Presiding Bishop H. David Burton, who oversees the management of LDS Church assets and properties, said that the church has always tried to implement innovative and environmentally conscious strategies in its construction of new buildings. One example he cited was from the 1980s, when the church discovered a hot spring on a site where it was constructing a meetinghouse in California, and used it to create a geothermal power plant to heat and cool the building.

Burton said that the church's hope for the pilot program is twofold. Church officials would like to reduce the overall operating and maintenance costs for the more than 17,000 church buildings worldwide. In addition to the matter of "hard dollars," however, Burton said that the church also wants to play a role in advocating wise stewardship of natural resources.

The church wants to be part of the process of "cleaning up the atmosphere and the environment where we live," Burton said.

Church officials are counting on church members to take an active role in maximizing many of the new features of the Farmington building, such as the low-volume, variable flush toilets in the women's restroom, or the Dumpsters for recyclables. The building library includes a computer monitor that constantly displays information about power usage, alerting members to potentially wasteful trends.

The spirit of conservation extends to the building grounds, which have been landscaped using drought-tolerant native plants, with many areas that would ordinarily be water-hungry lawn having been covered instead with landscape rock and bark. Doxey said that, along with the use of underground moisture sensors and satellite-connected weather monitors to control watering, the new approach provides a 50-percent reduction in water usage.

If the pilot program is successful, the church hopes to apply the new principles to its construction of new stake centers throughout the world. An LDS Church stake is an organizational and administrative unit that generally oversees between five and 10 wards, or congregations. In addition to housing special stake facilities, stake centers are typically used for everyday worship by up to three wards.

Burton said that the early feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, and that he expects the pilot program to yield a complete picture relatively quickly. He said the church may also retrofit some of its older buildings "where it makes sense, where we can do it, where it's practical." For now, he said, "We're delighted with what we see in this building and we're very optimistic about what the future might hold."

Thinking green

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has put in place an array of energy-conserving technologies at a new meetinghouse, part of a three-state pilot program, in Farmington. Some of the features include:

Solar power generation

Foam insulation

Low-E Solarban 70 window glass

Tankless water heaters

Computer-monitored heating and cooling

Motion sensors that shut off unneeded lighting

Web-connected thermostats that monitor power failures and reduce maintenance calls

Web-casting technology to stream stake meetings to ward meetinghouses

Drought-tolerant landscaping with moisture sensors and weather monitors to control watering

Dumpsters for recyclables

Low-volume, variable-flush toilets

Bike racks and preferred parking for gas-electric hybrid and other low-fuel vehicles