September 18, 2011

Physical Sciences Building Earns Gold LEED Status

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Surpassing University-wide standards for “green” design, the new Physical Sciences Building earned Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification at the Gold level.

All of Cornell’s building projects with budgets of more than $5 million budget must achieve a minimum level of Silver LEED certification, according to minutes from a facilities services meeting.

To receive Silver LEED certification, the building must score at least 33 out of a possible 69 points, which represent five categories of sustainable design features.

By earning 47 LEED points, the Physical Sciences Building obtained Gold certification.

LEED certification is an internationally-recognized benchmark for measuring the sustainability of newly constructed and renovated buildings.

The U.S. Green Building Council awards four tiers of certification: Certified, Silver, Gold and Platinum.

“You can earn Silver certification without being super efficient in energy. But achieving Gold — especially for a research building — is an extra stretch in efficiency and materials,” said W.S. (Lanny) Joyce ’81, director of energy management for Facilities Services.

Joyce emphasized the difficulty of achieving this rating. The Physical Sciences Building houses 88 laboratories, which are energy consumptive because they require high quantities of outdoor air for ventilation, he said.

A variety of energy systems offset the laboratories’ high-energy needs, according to Mike Husar, the senior project manager in Capital Projects and Planning. Air entering the building is pre-heated and pre-cooled through heat recovery with exhaust air, saving up to 30 percent of total energy requirements, he said. The building’s research laboratories have “variable volume fume hoods” and occupancy sensors that reduce airflow by one third and 50 to 80 percent respectively, he added.

Looking to the future, Husar said these innovative systems will deliver energy savings of 44 percent and cost savings of more than 40 percent “compared with a lab building designed to current standards.”

“In a lab situation, it’s hard to drive energy use lower than we did,” Joyce said.

Sustainable construction processes also contributed to the project’s Gold LEED recognition.

“We diverted and recycled a significant amount of material. Waste was ground and used as a topping material elsewhere on campus,” said Matt Kozlowski, LEED project administrator.

The building was credited for using regional materials and materials low in volatile organic compounds throughout the construction process. It also earned credit for recycling materials, having reused granite steps from the old Clark Hall courtyard.

Ultimately, the Physical Sciences Building fell five points short of the 52 points that are needed for Platinum-grade LEED certification.

The building’s budget of $141.9 million was determined before the University adopted its Silver LEED certification policy, according to Husar.

“Because we had a fixed budget, the extra half million dollars that LEED certification required came out of the funds we had originally set aside. This put constraints on our spending power,” he said.

LEED certification assesses five specific categories of sustainability: sustainable sites, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, materials and resources, and indoor environmental quality, according to the U.S. Green Building Council’s website.  “Constraints on spending power” mostly affected point certification in materials and resources, and energy and atmosphere, Husar said.

“The LEED system awards a number of points for materials that have important societal benefits but are cost-inefficient,” said Prof. David Muller, applied and engineering physics, who is co-director of the Kavli Institute at Cornell for Nanoscale Science.

Husar explained that instead of investing in expensive, LEED-certified wood materials that could have earned the building more points, the project team elected to install energy-saving and cost-efficient “green” designs.

“Knowing we would be using the building for the next 50 years, we had an incentive to reduce running costs. Earning an extra four points to push the project to Platinum certification would have meant sacrificing more important sustainable features,” Muller said.

The LEED program also awards a number of points for on-site renewable energy. Relative to the size of the building, Muller said solar power could not meet the building’s energy needs — especially given Ithaca’s climate.

Instead, the building used Cornell’s award-winning central energy plant and distribution system, which runs on lake source cooling and combined heat and power plants, Husar said.

The Physical Sciences Building is Cornell’s fourth Gold LEED-certified building. It joins the ranks of Weill Hall, Riley-Robb Hall Biofuels Research Laboratory and the Combined Heat and Power Plant.

Husar expressed pride in the building’s sustainability achievements.

“We had a budget for Silver certification and earned Gold. In terms of sustainability, we got an A. There’s no point in looking at it and asking why we didn’t  get an A+,” Husar said.

Original Author: Erin Ellis