CULLOWHEE – Western Carolina University’s Harrill Residence Hall has become the university’s second building to be LEED-certified for its comprehensive energy-efficient and environmentally friendly features.
The U.S. Green Building Council recently notified the university that the renovated nine-story co-ed residence hall had achieved LEED, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, certification at the second highest possible level — gold.
Galen May, university architect, said the initial goal for the project was LEED certification at the silver level, and the ability to achieve gold at Harrill and at WCU’s Health and Human Sciences Building speaks to the university’s commitment to excellence.
“The standards within Facilities Management at WCU are high in how we expect our buildings to perform,” said May. “The energy efficiencies and subsequent savings at Harrill Residence Hall that we are seeing now are a reflection of the quality expected as well as the desire to keep student costs down.”
A 77,296-square-foot residence hall built in 1971, the building underwent a $15.5 million yearlong renovation completed in 2012 and now features modern suites of rooms for 354 students, kitchenettes and living and gathering spaces, air-conditioning and a 6,000-square-foot addition with an upscale meeting venue.
In addition, WCU worked with Architectural Design Studio and Optima Engineering to develop “green” or energy-efficient elements as part of the project. In addition to recycling the old structure, the renovation featured construction of a geothermal heating and air-conditioning system that harnesses the earth’s energy by transferring heat absorbed by the earth via geothermal wells to heat the building, heat water for showers and power the air-conditioning system. Also, exterior wall insulation and canopies to control sunlight entering the building were part of the project.
A display panel in the lobby shares information about the building’s green features as well as real-time energy usage data, and the residence hall has features such as energy-efficient LED light fixtures, a bottle-filling water station and the ability for the heating or cooling in a room to automatically turn off when a window is opened.
May said installation of the geothermal system and the decision to renovate rather than demolish the existing structure elevated the project to the gold level. The total cost of the improvements are expected to be less than what the university will save in operational expenses over time, he said.
David King, WCU energy management specialist, said even with adding air-conditioning as part of the renovation, energy use in the building was reduced by 40 percent — from 72 kilo-British-Thermal-Units or kBTUS per square foot to 43 kBTUs per square foot — during the first year after the renovation compared to the average usage during the two prior years. Utility costs for energy and water also decreased from an average of $71,600 during the two years before the renovation to $61,629 for the most recent fiscal year.
King said with the updated building automation system, which can be accessed from any computer, staff members now have more ability to show residents how the building operates and how adjusting their thermostat can contribute to energy savings. Students are able to use the temperature controls in their rooms and can take actions such as lowering the temperature a few degrees when they leave the room or at night, he said.
“Being able to pull up the real-time energy usage information for the building when we do presentations has been a great educational tool,” King said.