Taking the LEED

December 3, 2010 | CUNY Matters

CUNY’s first Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) gold rating is expected for the new science center at Lehman College.

It could be the first of many such national honors.

Just east of the Jerome Park Reservoir in the Bronx, a dramatic, state-of-the-art science facility is taking shape at Lehman College. The 69,000-square-foot building is the first phase of a 15-year, three-part plan designed to create an innovative “campus within a campus” for all of the scientific disciplines.SolarPanels_1

It will not only showcase Lehman’s teaching and research in the plant sciences, but it will be thoroughly “green” itself, with sustainable features such as solar heating technology, rooftop rainwater collection and an artificial wetland that will be used for wastewater treatment.

“We’re making the building a teaching tool, a living laboratory,” says Tony Alfieri, project manager for Perkins + Will, the architectural firm that designed the project.

The new Lehman facility is also expected to be the first CUNY building to receive a LEED Gold Rating from the U.S. Green Building Council. LEED (Leader-ship in Energy and Environmental Design) is an internationally recognized standard designed to promote energy efficiency and environmental sustainability. The rating has four certification levels — certified, silver, gold and platinum — based on the number of points that the building council grants for eight major areas, including site planning, water efficiency, energy savings, indoor environmental quality and innovation in design.

Just a few years ago, few people outside the construction industry knew what “LEED” meant. But today, LEED is a widely accepted concept — and, indeed, has become the building standard at CUNY. “Many projects in the planning stages will be at least Silver-LEED certified,” says Iris Weinshall, Vice Chancellor for Facilities Planning, Construction and Management. “We have embraced this approach vis-a-vis our new buildings, as well as University-wide projects.”

LEED science buildings are especially challenging because they have a lot of code requirements that make it difficult to conserve energy, says Bob Lemieux, executive director of the Department of Design, Construction and Management. Research facilities are among the highest users of energy because none of the indoor air can be recirculated. Instead, 100 percent of a laboratory’s “old” air must be exhausted, replaced by 100 percent of “new” air being brought in. This incoming air must then be heated or cooled, using more energy than those buildings where a percentage of the already-heated or cooled air can remain.

In the coming years, more than a dozen buildings across the University are expected to be LEED-certified. Among them: the Advanced Science Research Center at the City College campus; the new Hunter School of Social Work in East Harlem; the Queens College Summit Residence Hall; the new science facility replacing Roosevelt Hall at Brooklyn College; the City Tech Academic Building; and the North Instructional Building at Bronx Community College.

Some construction projects — such as the multi-use building at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, and the Fiterman Hall replacement at Borough of Manhattan Community College — were already well underway before CUNY established a policy of seeking LEED certification. But even without official LEED status, such buildings provide substantial energy-saving and sustainable elements. Shortly after she joined CUNY in 2007, Weinshall noted that while green design is more costly to build, it is expected to yield between $6 million and $8 million a year in recurring energy savings within 10 years.

For instance, at John Jay College, the new 600,000-square-foot building has a “green roof” — a rooftop commons that serves as a “quadrangle in the sky for students in an urban setting,” says Jeff Young, project manager for Skidmore Owings & Merrill, which designed the building. The commons has a lot of trees and landscaping, Young says, including “grasscrete” — concrete surfaces designed in cells, with grass planted in between cells that can absorb storm water run-off. In addition, he adds, the John Jay building is designed to “harness a lot of natural light” through the central spine (“cascade”) of the building, which runs from the ground up to the fifth floor, and the placement of many class-rooms around the building’s perimeter.

The push for LEED certification is part of a broader University-wide effort toward long-term sustainability. A primary driver of such efforts is the challenge issued three years ago by Mayor Michael Bloomberg to reduce the University’s carbon footprint, says Tria Case, CUNY’s Director of Sustainability. As part of PlaNYC 2030, a comprehensive sustainability plan for the city’s future, Bloomberg set the goal of reducing citywide carbon emissions by 30 percent by 2017.

“Buildings are a key contributor to our carbon footprint,” says Case. There are about 300 buildings at CUNY, which account for about 1 percent of the city’s electrical load, Case says.

Besides the push to reduce energy consumption, the University is looking to generate some energy through solar power on the rooftops of CUNY buildings. Solar installations do contribute to LEED certification, but the main intent, says Case, is to help reduce energy load on the city during peak demand periods by producing extra power at University buildings.

At Lehman College, solar roof panels are eventually expected to generate enough hot water for the building’s use to reduce energy costs by more than 15 percent. Other current solar projects are smaller, such as the two photovoltaic panels installed atop the Marine and Academic Center at Kingsborough Community College. These panels produce 6 kilowatts of electricity that feed right into the building’s electrical system, says Anthony Corazza, campus facilities manager at Kingsborough. “It’s a perfect location for solar panels,” Corazza says. “There’s no obstruction.”

In some instances, new green buildings are being designed to save energy by nudging people to spend more energy themselves — and improve their own fitness in the process. For instance, CUNY’s Office of Facilities Planning, Construction and Management has been working closely with the city’s “Active Design Guidelines,” which were developed by a partnership of agencies to promote active living where people work and live, Lemieux says. Such guidelines include designs such as “skip-stop” elevators that don’t make stops at every floor, thus requiring people to get off and walk up or down a flight of stairs.

At John Jay, the new building design “makes good use of steps,” says Jeff Young of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. Steps are positioned “to encourage students to move with their feet, rather than the elevator,” Young says. In some areas, conventional stairs widen out to bleachers where students can stop and sit, and open their laptops. And stairs are “exhibited in prime areas,” rather than put in back hallways, he says. “They’re placed to fit the ways that students move.”