U plans eco-friendly designs for existing campus buildings

The state's guidelines could push U to become a leader in green design.

Allison Wickler

University officials are taking the lead from state guidelines on sustainable buildings by improving their own.

According to 2004 state legislation, the University must meet the Minnesota Sustainable Building Guidelines for all of its structures, said John Carmody, professor and director of the Center for Sustainable Building Research and guideline project leader of the team that created the guideline.

Sustainable design refers to measures that make buildings more energy efficient, use less water, have a lower impact on global warming and are healthier for occupants.

Some sustainable methods include capturing rain water to use for lawn care and installing energy-efficient windows and lighting.

While Minnesota building codes are being made increasingly stringent, University Director of Energy Jerome Malmquist said the University tries to exceed energy savings expectations by an additional 30 percent.

Though the University generally has buildings that are relatively energy efficient, in the past three years, University officials have put $333 million into existing campus buildings, including Coffman Union and Northrop Auditorium, to help retain energy already inside the building, said James Litsheim, senior architect at Capital Planning and Project Management at the University.

Carmody said some “exemplary” projects are in the works that will go above and beyond guidelines, including the proposed new Bell Museum of Natural History.

Bell Museum Director Scott Lanyon said the museum will try to achieve a gold rating, the highest on the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Environmental Energy and Design scale. The scale is the national standard for sustainable design.

Plans include a grass-covered “green” roof, which absorbs rainwater and prevents excess storm water runoff from the site.

The new TCF Bank Stadium also could become LEED certified, said stadium project coordinator Brian Swanson.

If the stadium meets Minnesota’s “Buildings, Benchmarks & Beyond” project standards, which includes the Minnesota Sustainable Building Guidelines as well as other corporate guidelines, it could receive a LEED rating.

Carmody said there is a “greening the campus” movement at universities around the United States, but the University is not currently as visible in the sustainable design arena.

However, with the state’s sustainability guidelines, he said it could become a leader in sustainable design in a few years.

Design education also seems to be rising in importance and popularity – a master’s degree program in sustainable design is in its second year of existence at the University.

Daniel Handeen, a student in the program, said he is learning ways to integrate his practical building knowledge with the environment.

“I don’t really feel like there’s a distinction between sustainable design and good design,” he said.

Carmody said five years ago there was resistance to the sustainability movement, but now most people recognize that “energy efficiency is a wise policy.”

However, while he said sustainable design is the right long-term investment, it doesn’t mean people can’t be skeptical of the effectiveness of new technology.

“We need people who are pushing the envelope for innovation,” Carmody said. “And then we need to push back a bit in terms of making those people prove it.”