Western Carolina University’s Health and Human Sciences Building has become the university’s first structure to be LEED-certified for its comprehensive energy-efficient and environmentally friendly features. The U.S. Green Building Council recently awarded the four-story, 160,000-square-foot building, which opened in 2012, LEED, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, certification at the second highest possible level – gold. The certification is based on an assessment of the building project in five categories – sustainable site, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, materials and resources, indoor environmental quality and innovation in design.
“Our initial goal was for the building to be certified at least at the silver level, but as the design and construction process continued and new LEED points were defined, the architects worked very hard to gather information to obtain the gold certification,” said Galen May, university architect.
Designed by architects with the firm of PBC+L (now Clark Nexsen), the Health and Human Sciences Building is nestled into a mountainside in a way that minimizes environmental impact and includes such features as reflective surfaces on the roof and a rooftop garden to keep heat absorption at bay. The orientation of windows and the sun screens on the building’s exterior maximize natural daylight to reduce energy needs for lighting and are positioned to reduce the need for heating and air conditioning. Other green design elements range from using regional products to incorporating water conservation measures.
“Our unique location and educational mission makes our campus a great living laboratory for engaging our students, faculty and staff in regards to sustainability,” said Lauren R. Bishop, chief sustainability officer at WCU. “We strive to create healthy learning environments. What better way to achieve this goal than with an actual building? Americans spend an average of 90 percent of their time indoors. If we can build a green building that helps to connect us with the outdoors, is energy efficient and provides comfortable spaces for educating our community, then we are making the right choice for creating a sustainable and resilient campus.”
WCU is seeking LEED certification at the gold level for Harrill Residence Hall after completing a $15.5 million renovation project that included features such as a geothermal heating and air-conditioning system.