September 14, 2011

Students Hope to Create Campus Building

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Many students leave their marks at Cornell, but few may leave a more permanent reminder than the students in Cornell University Sustainable Design — an organization that is in the process of designing and constructing a new building on campus.

CUSD hopes to build a two-to-three floor Sustainable Research Facility, with 6,000 square feet on the ground floor, to serve as the new home of the David Atkinson ’60 Center for a Sustainable Future, which was established last year.

“Cornell has this great commitment to sustainability, but the issue is there’s no comprehensive way to bring departments together,” Jeremy Blum ’12, CUSD team leader, said of the need for the building.

Three potential locations are being considered — one near the Dilmun Hill Student Farm and two sites “on the east part of campus” — according to University Planner Mina Amundsen.

If completed, CUSD — which hopes to break ground in the summer of 2012, begin major construction in 2013 and complete the project in 2015 — would be the first student group to design and build a major Cornell facility.

“This is definitely a first for Cornell,” Blum said.

Still, a lot of work needs to be done if CUSD is to meet this goal, said Jesse McElwain ’13, CUSD liaison and publicity director.

“All the parts are getting designed and prototyped this semester. Next semester those things will start to come together,” Blum said.

The group must still win final approval from the University to have the facility built, although CUSD members are optimistic that will occur soon.

“The approval request to get a project ready is extremely long,” McElwain said. “What we haven’t done is, we haven’t secured a site yet.” Amundsen said that there is no preferred location among the three options.

Although fifteen faculty members advise CUSD, the drive to design and build the facility is almost entirely led by students.

“It’s definitely being accomplished by the students,” said Prof. David Schneider, systems engineering and CUSD’s primary advisor. “If we’re going to do this we want it to be something done by the students.”

The purpose of the facility will be to research sustainability techniques in the way buildings are designed, Blum said.

“The building is a lab,” he said, explaining that it would be a “modularized” building — one that can be changed to suit different purposes.

“It’s designed to expand over time as needs change,” Blum said.

Schneider added that the building will even be able to change floor plans.

“It’s very modular in nature … That makes it very unique and powerful to do energy research,” he said.

The building will have traditional lab space, but its most important aspect will be its sensor system, which will measure different variables, such as temperature and energy usage, in each room throughout the day, Blum said.

The sensor system will aid in studying “how people interact with buildings” and how energy is used and produced by the building, Blum said.

The sensors will also study how energy is consumed and waste is produced by the building.

Once completed, the SRF will be the first building of its kind, Schneider said.

The sensor system and the modular nature of the building will make it a unique location for sustainability research.

“We’re trying to create a building that has never been created before,” Schneider said.

Blum emphasized the building’s unique qualities.

“[It’s a] research facility for research that can’t be done anywhere else,” he said. “This is not something that exists elsewhere.”

Although it is still too early in the process to determine a price for the project, Blum said that funding will not come from the University.

“CUSD is really good at raising money,” he said. “Companies have reached out to us.”

Most of the building will be funded through in-kind donations — the donation of materials — from companies interested in the research implications of the SRF, Blum said.

He added that companies have already made donations. Last week, Haworth, a furniture company that also makes movable walls, donated $10,000 worth of modular floors and walls.

CUSD plans to build the facility entirely out of sustainable materials and to design it to be carbon neutral. CUSD also hopes to make the building energy positive, meaning it generates more energy than it consumes, something that Blum calls a “lofty goal.”

The members of CUSD said that the project has been a valuable learning experience. CUSD was formed by members of the Solar Decathlon Team after they last competed in the national Solar Decathlon competition in 2009.

Blum said that, beyond the finished product, lthe process itself would be a useful learning experience.

“It’s not just useful once it’s erected, it’s the whole process,” he said. “We encourage people to do stuff outside their comfort zone.”

“Not only are we taking on the responsibility of making this happen, we’re taking on the responsibility of our own education,” McElwain added. “It’s really valuable to get that kind of real world experience.”

Original Author: Joseph Niczky