The Color of Building: Green - April 16, 2007

The Color of Building: Green

April 16, 2007

(Courtesy of the Record)

By Barbara King Lord

They may have different architectural styles, physical sizes and academic purposes, but there is a unifying element to the three biggest construction projects the University currently is undertaking: They're all green.

These three highly visible projects-the Northwest Science Building, McVickar Hall and Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory's new geochemistry building-are the strongest statement yet of Columbia's commitment to build within the highest environmental standards. This means seeking Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification, "the nationally accepted benchmark for design, construction and operation of high-performance green buildings," says the United States Green Building Council.

In fact, Northwest Science and McVickar are Columbia's first buildings to be registered for LEED certification, and they won't be the last. "As a practical matter, we've begun to use the LEED checklist in our internal planning process for major construction around the University," says Nilda Mesa, Columbia's director of environmental stewardship.

LEED uses a scorecard-type rating system that awards points in specific areas: sustainable site development, water conservation, energy efficiency, environmentally sound building materials, and indoor environmental quality.

Applying for LEED certification, a voluntary designation, usually starts at the beginning of the construction planning process. That's when project managers, architects, contractors and engineers make decisions on how their project aligns with LEED criteria in each key area. For the Northwest Science building, "we're making sure all the design-related points are in the drawings," says Karrie Wilhelms, a project manager at Facilities and the Department of Capital Project Management.

Because seven of Northwest Science's 13 floors are lab areas, ventilating requirements need 100 percent outside air. "Lots of air changes each hour are lab safety concerns; moreover we use lots more water and energy per square foot than other buildings. So LEED certification for a lab building is more challenging," Wilhelms adds. The design team will work with Labs 21, another voluntary partnership that helps build sustainable high-performance, low-energy labs.

McVickar Hall's gut renovation includes "practically the entire interior of the building," says Donald Eggleton, a project manager. McVickar can claim LEED points for reusing the building shell, and the internal systems construction will also comply with the LEED checklist for new buildings. Eggleton says.

At LDEO, the new geochemistry building replaces an existing building that houses the Geochemistry Division. It will be "a state-of-the- art laboratory building consisting of wet and dry chemistry labs, including ultra clean chemistry labs," says Patrick O'Reilly, assistant director for facilities and engineering at LDEO.

To date, the building doesn't have LEED certification, but O'Reilly is confident certification is attainable. "All of us recognize the value of institutionalizing and publicizing good environmental stewardship," he said.