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Toward a Zero Energy Educational Environment

Nov. 3, 2009 – Helping a large-scale education facility produce as much energy as it consumes is no small undertaking; yet the University of Utah’s College of Architecture + Planning is preparing to do just that.

The administration plans to renovate the College’s 40-year old brutalist-style facility in such a way that the building consumes the least possible amount of energy and-at the same time-begins to generate its own energy, thus accomplishing a net-zero energy state of operations.

“This project will be a model for our students,” says Dean Brenda Scheer, “in a world where architects and planners teach the principles of conserving energy and resources for the future, we want the coming generations of students to experience the application of those principles first-hand. And to know that what we teach in the classroom works when applied to a living, breathing, occupied building.”

Located in the foothills of the Wasatch range with a clear view of urban sprawl and its deleterious effects on the surrounding delicate landscape, the U is a living laboratory for demonstrating smart growth. The campus is situated on a narrow band of land that is bound by residential neighborhoods and protected natural areas.

Believed to be the first institutional building renovated to a net zero standard anywhere in the United States, the building will be autonomous from the University’s energy grid supply and energy will be produced on-site. This design principle is gaining considerable interest as renewable energy is a means to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

“A renovation on the scale of this building can mean considerable savings of materials and energy, with positive economic and environmental consequences,” according to research conducted at the U by architecture professor Robert Young. “Not only does rehabilitation save the energy first used to construct a building, but it prevents new energy from being spent on the extraction of raw materials and the construction of a new building.”

To explore the implications of a net-zero energy building, the College is hosting a full-day workshop on November 6, 2009 in the College’s Bailey Hall. A group of students, faculty, architects, engineers, policy-makers, etc, from the community will gather to explore the issues, technologies, and challenges in undertaking such a project.

“It is our hope that by convening this workshop, we will be able to create awareness for the project, generate interest on the part of funders, and make sure that we come away with as many ideas and options possible for the project,” concluded Scheer. “Taking this facility to a zero-energy state will be an incredible challenge, but one that will be a model not only for training on campus, but also for designers and developers in the region.”