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April 30, 2001

Emory takes LEED in green building

By Michael Terrazas


The view from the roof of the Whitehead Memorial Research Building is breathtaking. On a clear day in late April, it is rapturously apparent how Atlanta earned the (increasingly less appropo) nickname as “The City Built in a Forest,” as in between Emory’s campus and the downtown skyline is a rolling sea of green merely punctuated by buoys of building tops.

But as anyone who lives in Atlanta can attest, clear, smogless days are becoming fewer and farther between, and even the most beautiful day carries with it the promise that more of those green trees will meet the ax. The city’s environmental problems are myriad and painfully complex, but anyone who thinks they are beyond hope should visit Whitehead and admire the view—not of the skyline, but of the roof itself.

Protruding from the top of the not-yet-completed building are four cylindrical vents, or “rocket ships,” as Project Manager Laura Case calls them. These vents serve as exhaust ports for the building’s four enthalpy or “heat” wheels, state-of-the-art technology that will significantly reduce the amount of energy needed to condition the building’s air. The wheels tagged on another $450,000 to the cost of the $82 million Whitehead facility. They will pay for themselves in about four years.

This design feature is one of the many initiatives Emory is undertaking, not just in Whitehead but also in Science 2000 Phase II and the Winship Cancer Institute, as part of the University’s participation in the Leadership in Energy & Environ-mental Design (LEED) program, designed in 1993 by the U.S. Green Building Council.

LEED is a system for designing and constructing environmentally friendly buildings, focusing on five areas: building site selection and erosion control; water efficiency; energy and atmosphere; materials and resources; and indoor environmental quality. Currently, only 13 buildings in the United States are LEED-certified; if all goes well, Emory will soon add three more.

“LEED is probably the most advanced [green building] program in the country, with the most rigorous guidelines and protocols,” said John Fields, director of Project Management and Construction for Facilities Management (FM) and the University’s point person for all things LEED.
Fields’ introduction to the program came in March 2000, when he, Vice President for FM Bob Hascall and Campus Planning Director Jen Fabrick attended a LEED workshop. Hascall said they returned to campus knowing this was something in which Emory should get involved.

“We were already doing many of these things [in the LEED program],” Hascall said. “It wasn’t a big leap for us to go to the next step and see what else we could incorporate into our construction processes—especially since we already have such a large capital program.”

The Whitehead Building’s heat wheels were already incorporated in its design when Fields learned about LEED, but they are only one of its green features. Others include providing natural light to 90 percent of its occupants, using storm-water drainage for irrigation, a condensate recovery system in its air-handling units, using carpet produced by a 100-percent solar-powered manufacturer, recycling construction debris, and other initiatives.

Obtaining LEED certification is a lengthy process that can be done only after a building is completed, and there are four levels of certification; only one structure in the country—Oberlin College’s Lewis Center for Environmental Studies, whose solar-paneled roof will soon produce more energy than the building consumes—is graded at the highest level.

Fields said he is “cautiously optimistic” that Whitehead, on schedule to be completed in December, will be the first medical facility in the United States to be certified, and the plan is to get certification for Science 2000 Phase II and the Winship Cancer Institute, as well.

“Are we using LEED on every project? No,” Fields admitted. “But what we’re doing is using LEED as a set of guiding principles, so even if you don’t have a certified building, you can still do some good things. It’s the spirit of what we’re trying to achieve that’s important.”

It’s also pushing the Atlanta construction community in the right direction. Fields said many of the University’s vendors and contractors had to get themselves up to speed on LEED if they wanted to keep Emory’s business. “There are pocketed areas of expertise in Atlanta,” he said, “and what we’ve done is push that to the forefront.

“We’re making this tiny little contribution to the air pollution problem in this city,” Fields added. “If we can get 100,000 people to do the same thing? Then we’ll be onto something.”


Back to Emory Report April 30, 2001