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Going Green While Saving Green: Testing the 'Green' Philosophy

Does building green make sense for the bottom line?
University Business, Jun 2006

Recently, California, Colorado, Wisconsin, Maryland, New York, and Pennsylvania have done it. That is, these states developed green building programs for public buildings that beat the expectations of energy conservation as determined by building codes and/or will meet the criteria set forth in the US Green Building Council's LEED Silver rating or better.

This has forced the issue for both public and private sector institutions of higher education, anxious to differentiate themselves and compete for market share in an age of declining funding, to identify how to afford and implement these mandates.

As officials at Santa Clara University, a private Jesuit university located in Silicon Valley, attempted to answer this question, it became clear that the effort should be aligned with the overall objectives of the university, taking into account not just the design and building process, but the learning process as well.

Santa Clara has taken a proactive and rather unusual approach to the question of proof. As the university prepares to implement its capital improvements program, the questions we are tackling related to sustainable design include:

The looming question is how to incorporate sustainable infrastructure design into existing campuses.

How does the facility fit within the university's core mission of education and enrichment, while cost-effectively performing in both initial and long-term operations?

How do we make sure the building is operationally efficient without compromising function, comfort, and our mission?

Will the facility's innovative systems or design require more initial maintenance or a high staff learning curve in order to reap its full cost savings or energy savings benefits?

Do we select new products and systems that are continuing to evolve, or is it better to wait for more time-tested versions (early adapter versus proven)?

How do we maximize the university's value from the facility, including incorporation into the curriculum and daily university life?

Santa Clara's approach was to create a "sustainable demonstration building" that provides a living laboratory to serve the university's space needs while it is also monitored and studied for the differences in comfort and energy use it provides. The Kennedy Commons Sustainable Demonstrations Building is a 7,500-square-foot residential support environment that houses a multipurpose room, a small kitchen, a lounge, a den, offices, and two classrooms. The building serves 800 students housed in four adjacent residential units.

The purpose of the building is three-fold: to educate the university community about the possibilities of sustainable design and the social responsibility of using resources wisely; to provide a "test bed" by which the long-term cost benefits of sustainable design will be measured as a precursor to campus growth; and to provide a community resource to other building owners and for education regarding sustainable design.

Designed by KMD Architects, the sustainable design features include: appropriate building orientation on the site to efficiently capture solar power and utilization of prevailing winds as a source of natural ventilation; photovoltaics such as landscaped trellises over sitting areas to serve the building's power and lighting needs; raised floors in the classrooms for under-floor air conditioning, power, and data needs; a radiant heat system; straw bale walls; a thermal chimney to create a vacuum that draws heat from the building; a green roof supporting live planting to reduce heat gain; groundwater cooling to reduce power loads for air conditioning needs; and flexibility to replace systems and materials such as glazing, wall types, materials, and mechanical systems over time as they evolve in the industry.

What about funding? The premium for sustainable designs and systems is becoming smaller as the construction industry responds to growing demand, although there is still an anticipated 5 percent premium for initial cost. In a time of fluctuating and rising construction costs, affordability is a constant concern for academic institutions. Despite the link between initial construction cost funding and long-term operational costs, academic institutions often favor initial investments related to program space expansion without factoring the tangible benefits of the long-term investment.

IHEs and K-12 schools have been traditionally poor at merging their capital investment and real estate strategies with the functions of design and construction. For institutions, this lack of long-term outlook greatly decreases the institution's ability to make smart decisions, causing them to cycle in a "chicken or egg" approach in their funding and budget forecasting.

The need to create return-on-investments that are typical in private sector design and construction is a missing piece of the sustainable strategies puzzle. While academic institution administrators rationally understand the need to do this, they are often slow to implement and force changes in the management policies of the departments responsible for procuring design and construction.

Exemplifying this long-term view, we calculated that the inclusion of a raised-access floor system for an 84,000-square-foot building adds a premium of $5 per square foot-but reduces the maintenance budget by $50,000 per year. Thus, the yield of a simple payback over an eight-year period equates to a "no-brainer" decision for a building designed with a life of 30 to 50 years.

To justify this cost-benefit approach, IHEs that typically hold their buildings for longer than the designed life spans need to manage a process of cross-analysis among the fund allocations to create incentives for departments of capital planning, design/construction, and maintenance to make integrated, strategic decisions. Without it, we see the typical response: "Great idea, but we can't afford it, and we won't give up programs to afford it."

The looming question is how to incorporate sustainable infrastructure design into existing campuses. Using data from the Society for College and University Planning as an example, with 461 million net square feet of university academic space on the 189 U.S. campuses providing inventory information to SCUP, the overall impact of decreasing energy and resource use by 10 percent could be significant. New campuses that are coming on line such as the University of California, Merced have preplanned their sustainable infrastructure, but most exist within the confines of their present campuses.

College and university administrators can best incorporate sustainability into existing campuses, whether it is incremental maintenance decisions or significant upgrades, if they work to develop an overall infrastructure master plan.

Sadly, such planning is still not woven into most institutions' approaches. Some progress is being made; however, energy conservation is not yet viewed as a critical need. Meanwhile, drivers such as water consumption are often forcing a total look at infrastructure in the existing campus environment. ARUP, an international engineering firm, is currently working on a number of University of California campus master plans, including a UC, Santa Cruz infrastructure master plan focusing on both existing and new development over the next 20 to 30 years.

One problem for sustainability: Funding appropriations are often developed on a building-by-building basis.

"In Santa Cruz, water is the critical resource that is driving the design of the overall campus infrastructure," says Aidan Hughes, principal of ARUP's infrastructure group. "Existing and new development on UC, Santa Cruz's campus must comply with the locally designated water appropriations. While we are planning for the declining availability of water, we are also applying the same criteria to energy conservation. However, we are still experiencing the fact that energy conservation alone is not a sufficiently strong enough driver in establishing an overall strategy for sustainable infrastructure development for most institutions."

One major issue for college administrators is that funding appropriations are often developed on a building-by-building basis, and there may be no mechanism for looking at the entire campus infrastructure, nor at the impact of renovation or new construction on the overall return on investment to the institution. This includes the performance criteria of each building addition or renovation to the campus, and how it embeds itself into the overall capacity of the campus infrastructure, often taking more capacity and limiting further development.

Clearly, as we face declining resource issues, it behooves academic institutions to understand the value of infrastructure in their capital improvement programs.

Joe Sugg is assistant vice president of University Operations at Santa Clara University. Elizabeth Chaney is director of KMD Architects.


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