August 27, 2012

Cornell’s Milstein Hall Is Golden, Sustainability Experts Say

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The U.S. Green Building Council has awarded Milstein Hall LEED Gold certification in recognition of its achievements in sustainability, design and efficient operational standards, the University announced on Aug. 23.

Opened in August 2011 as an expansion of the College of Architecture, Art and Planning, Milstein Hall received a score of 40 out of a total possible 69 LEED points. LEED — leadership in energy and environmental design — is a benchmark system that scores buildings on a number of factors related to energy efficiency, innovative design and reduction of carbon emissions, according to the building council.

According to Kyu-Jung Whang, vice president of Cornell Facility Services, Milstein Hall was not always expected to earn such a high LEED certification. While Cornell now requires all major construction projects to achieve at least LEED Silver certification — the third highest rank, behind gold and platinum — these expectations are relatively new.

“When the project started way back in 2004, 2005, 2006, [LEED certification] was never a requirement,” Whang said. “Our design standards are such that … for us to get LEED Silver on any project is sort of a no brainer. That’s why we strive for something greater than LEED Silver; we try to go for LEED Gold and hopefully LEED Platinum someday.”

Cornell has about a dozen LEED Gold certified buildings, but none that are Platinum certified. Whang said that the architects for CornellNYC Tech, currently under construction on Roosevelt Island in New York City, are aiming to have at least one Platinum-certified building on the new campus.

Tailoring a building to meet LEED certification generally makes the building more expensive to build, Whang said. Administrators estimated that Milstein Hall cost about $41 million, according to several University press releases.

However, Whang said that over the lifetime of a LEED-certified building, savings accrue from lower energy costs related to some of Cornell’s sustainable building practices, which include Lake Source Cooling — a system that uses cold water from Cayuga Lake to reduce the need for temperature control — and the use of natural lighting from skylights and windows.

“If you look at the building through its entire life cycle, it’s much less costly,” Whang said.

According to University architect Gilbert Delgado, the University also requires its LEED buildings to use at least 30 percent less energy than non-LEED certified ones.

“We’re continuing our efforts in sustainability in all the new buildings that we’re doing,” Delgado said. He added that in moving forward with CornellNYC Tech, the University will aggressively pursue the construction of “net zero” buildings that will “produce as much energy as [they] use.”

“We are very committed to these ideas, and our future projects will show that,” Delgado said.

Whang said that LEED-certified buildings are especially important in promoting efforts to combat climate change and reduce carbon emissions.

“You build a building that consumes less fossil fuel and energy and it helps the environment — and there’s a cost to that,” he said, referring to the higher initial price tag for LEED-certified buildings.

But Whang added that reducing carbon emissions is such an important goal that price should not matter.

“The fact that we are putting greenhouse gas into the atmosphere, there’s no way to put a price tag on that. We know that it harms the environment and, ultimately, it’s going to kill us eventually,” he said.

Original Author: Byron Kittle