Meldrum Science Center Receives First-Ever LEED Platinum Certification for a Utah Higher Education Institution
By Ashley Briggs and Ellen Parrish
When Westminster College selected VCBO Architecture and Big-D Construction to design and build their new science center, they had already committed to pursuing a sustainable facility and set an ambitious level of LEED Gold Certification. In accordance with the college’s vision, the Meldrum Science Center would be geared toward teaching students and faculty how to be good stewards of natural resources and a functioning example of “building as a learning tool” where form mirrors function.
Since many credits require advance strategic planning, identifying sustainable design targets at the project outset is critical for success. Site selection, building program and utilization, and construction activities must all be geared toward the vision from day one.
Design decisions related to credits have huge budgetary and logistical impacts. For example, adding tow inches of continuous insulation in the building envelope allowed Meldrum’s mechanical system to be downsized, driving savings both on an energy and mechanical equipment costs. This decision would have had major implications if not planned from the start, either by reducing interior dimensions, which could mean expensive equipment may not fir in its designated space, or that the masonry exterior would have to be modified, changing the masonry coursing.
From the inception of its design, the Meldrum Science Center was envisioned to be a learning tool to instruct the science students about sustainable building practices. At the outset of the project, it was never the goal of the project, team to satisfy only the LEED criteria to complete a checklist of credits, but rather a real search for the implementation of sustainable strategies that would provide learning opportunities for the students. Given the fact that science education facilities are typically notorious energy wasters, it was especially important to the college that this facility be a true model of energy efficiency, resources conservation and a clear demonstration of sustainable building practices.
Examples of these practices during construction:
· A specimen Sycamore tree on site that was nearing the end of its natural life was carefully taken down. The wood was sawed and re-incorporated into a conference table, building signage and science exhibits.
· A photovoltaic solar array on the roof of the facility is connected to the building’s energy controls and is able to be monitored by the building’s occupants in a digital display in the atrium. The building controls also allow the various labs in the building to monitor the energy usage in each laboratory. Additionally, the electric lighting within the laboratories is tied to the amount of daylight being captured in that space, dimming (or shutting off) the lights when there is adequate natural light in the room.
· The main level flooring in the atrium is made of re-claimed lumber from four different species, varying from a dark walnut to a light maple. The wood floor in the atrium is configured into a nautilus pattern (a well-known mathematical and scientific symbol) that is repeated in various locations in the building. A story of each of the wood species is posted in the atrium.
· The mechanical system in the building is a highly efficient, three-stage evaporative cooling system with head from the laboratory fume hood exhaust being recovered from the building’s ventilation system. This mechanical system is exposed in numerous locations, and the building’s exhaust ducts from the fume hoods, wrapped in stainless steel, are on display in the middle of the atrium so students can understand how air is delivered throughout the building.
· The storm water that falls on the building’s roof and on the surrounding site is collected into underground storage tanks and can be pumped out to be used as irrigation water for the low-water landscaping surrounding the building. Also, the used water from the evaporative cooling system (that is untreated) is directed to this underground storage tank for future use as irrigation at the facility.
These practices and many others have combined to make this facility an experiential and hands-on learning lesson for the students to understand the value in conserving natural resources.
“Even the simple act of not needing to turn on the lights for a class in this building teaches volumes about sustainable design and using our resources wisely,” said Derek Payne, design architect with VCBO Architecture.
Although it was not the main purpose for incorporating sustainable strategies into the facility, the four-story, 65,000 square-food building received LEED Platinum Certification – the first higher education building in the state of Utah to do so.
The center includes 14 high-performance, integrated lab/classrooms and five dedicated research labs, as well as open space for students and faculty from different disciplines to discuss new concepts and conduct research collaboratively. The building is designed to facilitate active, experiential interdisciplinary and collaborative learning through the use of open, flexible classroom spaces and research labs.
The entire project team’s commitment to communication, collaboration and an integrated sustainable approach resulted in exceeding the LEED Gold target and achieving the LEED Platinum Certification.
“Westminster’s commitment to excellence and sustainability, as well as the dedication of Big-D and total team collaboration of all parties, allowed this project to surpass its original LEED goal and achieve LEED Platinum,” said Jim Allison, Big-D principal-in-charge. “The fact that this is a laboratory building just makes this accomplishment even more phenomenal.”