CORVALLIS - The new $45 million engineering building project at Oregon State University will be one of the first in the state university system to earn "green" certification, and is part of a growing trend in the public sector towards this environmentally-sensitive design and construction process.
Green construction and official certification goes far beyond the basic issues of energy conservation, officials say, creating major buildings that are light, airy, people-friendly, conserve water, utilize recycled materials, reduce environmental pollution and help protect global ecosystems.
The new 146,000-square-foot structure that will be started soon at OSU should consider all these concepts and many more, and represents a university commitment to buildings that provide an optimal setting for student education and research while protecting the environment and cutting energy costs.
"OSU has always designed good buildings that conserve energy, but green certification takes those concepts to a much more sophisticated level, and is just beginning to catch on around the country," said Lori Fulton, OSU's manager of capital construction projects. "This will be the first building at OSU to be green-certified, but almost certainly not the last. This is a trend of the future and as a university we're embracing it."
The new structure will house the OSU programs of computer science and electrical and computer engineering. It will feature 21st-century high-tech laboratories, collaborative research and instruction, and other important features that will allow for the growth of OSU's College of Engineering and aid its goal of becoming one of the top-25 engineering programs in the nation.
But in order to earn green certification, the university is also committed to an extensive process that tries to create healthy indoor environments, reduce pollution, minimizes urban sprawl, cuts down on waste, slashes energy costs, prevents "sick building syndrome" and improves employee morale and productivity. Dozens of specific points are outlined that need to be considered and addressed to achieve one of the four levels of Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEEDS certification, designed by the U.S. Green Building Council.
The new engineering building, for instance, will probably include these features:
- A large atrium will bring light indoors and allow extensive use of "daylighting" in almost every work, laboratory or office space.
- Windows will be openable to allow localized air and temperature control.
- An open spatial design will allow more natural air flushing and ventilation each day with fewer mechanical systems.
- Landscaping will be water efficient and feature native vegetation.
- Light "shelves" will provide more pleasant, indirect use of sunlight on south-facing rooms.
- An "eco-roof" could use soil to help insulate the top of the building, retaining heat for building warmth and slowing the runoff of rain into storm sewer systems.
- Use of local or regional building suppliers will be emphasized to reduce material transportation costs and environmental impacts.
- The building is required by state law to exceed building code requirements for energy efficiency by 20 percent, but with LEEDS certification it should beat those standards by 30-40 percent.
- The building will be convenient to local bus lines, minimize exterior light pollution, and achieve outstanding indoor air quality.
- Paints, coatings and carpets will be chosen to minimize chemical emissions.
"Some people still think that green construction concepts are just about cutting your energy and utility bills, but it's much more than that," Fulton said. "What we're trying to do here is create functional buildings that are healthy and comfortable to work in while having a minimal impact on the environment in every way possible."
Certification, Fulton said, is actually just the last step in a movement that OSU and many other institutions have been involved in for many years. The major improvements being made to Dixon Recreation Center at OSU, she said, also involve some of these same energy conservation and environmental concepts. Other institutions in the Oregon University System are considering the use of LEEDS certification or are using some sustainable construction concepts that are conceptually similar to the program. And around the state, the Eugene Public Library, Marion County Courthouse Square and a number of other public and private buildings are also pursuing LEEDS certification.
The movement, she said, in some ways is also a return to the past. Instead of constructing buildings that are dark, sealed off and rely heavily on artificial lighting and mechanical ventilation, green buildings feature openable windows for light, natural ventilation, and more use of passive heating and cooling that somewhat resemble buildings built a century ago.
The green construction features may initially cost 3-6 percent more than more traditional approaches, Fulton said, but those expenses will be offset by future energy savings and a more functional, livable and healthy work environment. In some structures, green construction can be accomplished at the same or lower cost, experts say.
The move towards green construction, advocates say, is a critical issue. Commercial, institutional and residential buildings account for up to 40 percent of total energy use, 35-40 percent of municipal solid waste, and more than 25 percent of wood, raw materials and water used. These buildings are where Americans spend 90 percent of their time, and they consume two-thirds of our electricity.