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A Greener Campus Building

April 20, 2007 — More than 20 University of Utah students are trying to turn Earth-friendly sentiments into reality by designing 11 “green” projects they hope to finance and install in a new $25 million geology building currently under construction.

Some of the projects – ranging from a storm-water recycling system to low-water landscaping, natural lighting, solar power and stone furniture – will be outlined during a news conference at 10 a.m. MDT Tuesday, April 24 (see location details above).

The students also hope to obtain donations so the projects are added to the new Frederick Albert Sutton Building, which will house the university’s Department of Geology and Geophysics. Course instructor William Johnson, an associate professor in the department, says project costs range from about $10,000 to $70,000, and to pay for them all would require about $300,000.

“The students are literally creating something out of nothing, which may be the most important lesson of this experience – a lesson that they will take into their future endeavors,” Johnson says. “The students are benefiting from this applied, open-ended design exercise where they have worked within – or have overcome or avoided – technical, financial and aesthetic constraints.”

Ground was broken for the $25 million, four-level Sutton Building during winter 2007, and completion is expected early in 2009. The building is being constructed entirely by private donations and without state funding. All the student projects are designed to enhance the new building’s environmental performance, but the building’s budget will not cover the cost of the projects, thus the request for additional donations.

“Most ‘green’ buildings are purchased, in the sense that funds are available to pay design professionals to develop and implement designs for enhanced environmental performance,” says Frank Brown, a distinguished professor of geology and geophysics and dean of the College of Mines and Earth Sciences.

“In our case, we lack that luxury. But this weakness is also an important strength. Students, donors, staff and faculty are driving the process, giving them ownership and a sense of ‘doing the right thing’ despite the obstacles. In the end, if we are successful, many people will have lent their hands to the process, and the students will be able to point to a particular environmental performance feature and say, ‘I actually made that difference.'”

The undergraduate and graduate students are enrolled in a course named the Sustainability Practicum, which is offered through the Environmental Studies Program and three academic departments: biology; geology and geophysics; and civil and environmental engineering. Johnson teaches the class along with Steve Burian, an assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering, and Fred Montague, a professor and lecturer in biology.

Here are the 11 projects (and the students designing them):

  • (1) A storm-water collection system on the building roof that will capture water from rain and snow, and then carry the water via conduits to a reservoir located beneath the perimeter grounds. This system will avoid discharge of urban runoff contaminants to the environment. (Tom Romney, Sam Grenlie and Chris Zawislak.)

  • (2) A storm-water distribution system that will use solar power to distribute the stored water to a rooftop garden, landscape around the building and some toilets in the building. (Steven Deppe and Catherine Wyffels.)

  • (3) A xeriscaped (water-conserving) rooftop garden to enhance cooling of the building interior during the summer. (Alexandra Parvaz and Elzard Sikkema.)

  • (4) A xeriscaped perimeter landscape on the grounds surrounding the building to minimize exterior water use. (Shahla Pezeshki and Bret Weston.)

  • (5) An indoor, two-story rock wall with a geological cross-section representing the geologic history of the Wasatch Range, with seeping water that will evaporate to help cool the building’s interior. (Payton Gardner, Andrea Townsend and Nick Parsons.)

  • (6) Tubular skylights on the rooftop to bring natural sunlight into windowless interior spaces such as laboratories. (Heidi Campbell and Christopher Strong.)

  • (7) Solar panels to provide some electricity. (Michael Christensen.)

  • (8) An outdoor, odor-free composting toilet on the building grounds to demonstrate waste treatment that uses no water, and also to serve as an educational tool for wastewater treatment and microbial ecology. (Blake Paullin and Melissa Martinez.)

  • (9) A real-time energy and water-use monitor to be displayed in the building lobby to demonstrate use of energy and water in the Sutton Building compared with other campus buildings of similar size. (Kevin Uno and Charles Kim.)

  • (10) Conference tables and benches constructed from rocks (such as sandstone and granite) for the building lobby and perimeter grounds to enhance the connection to the natural environment. (Emily Clegg and Leah Ronnow.)

  • (11) Bike lockers to encourage bicycle riding, which reduces traffic and pollution and improves riders’ health. (Jesse Brewer.)

The Department of Geology and Geophysics hopes to obtain Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification for the building. LEED is a rating system developed by the U.S. Green Building Council to set standards for environmentally sustainable construction.

The students designed the projects with help not only from biology, civil engineering, and geology and geophysics faculty members, but with mentoring by the Sutton Building’s architects at Cooper Roberts Simonsen Associates and by staff from the University of Utah’s Plant Operations and Environmental Health and Safety offices.

“The campus community benefits by enhanced collaboration between students, staff, faculty and professionals, and the greater community benefits from the development of infrastructure that publicly promotes increased environmental performance,” says Marjorie Chan, professor and chair of geology and geophysics.

Even if they do not obtain donations to build the projects, “at a minimum, the students have developed conceptual designs that can be implemented in subsequent campus structures that do have the advantage of state funding,” Chan says.

Johnson, however, adds that “it is probable we will get at least some of the projects built.”

News media representatives may obtain a list of contact information for students in the class from Lee Siegel.