LEED certification sought for building

Alan P. Sellars, project manager at WCU, and Sara Melanson, a project architect with PBC+L, discuss one of the features of the new Health and Human Sciences Building designed to reduce the impact of stormwater runoff.

Alan P. Sellars, project manager at WCU, and Sara Melanson, a project architect with PBC+L, discuss a feature of the new Health and Human Sciences Building designed to reduce the impact of stormwater runoff.

Daylight bounces into the interior corridors of Western Carolina University’s new $46 million Health and Human Sciences Building while the reflective surfaces of the roof and rooftop garden keep heat absorption at bay, thanks to two of the array of design features that position the building to be WCU’s first LEED-certified structure.

Asheville-based architects with Pearce Brinkley Cease + Lee are working through the process of submitting documentation to the United States Green Building Council that demonstrate the building’s compliance with LEED, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, standards. The building is under construction now on WCU’s West Campus and is expected to open for classes this fall. A determination on whether the facility will achieve LEED certification and at what level – the university’s goal is silver – is anticipated by the end of the year.

“The new Health and Human Sciences Building is another great example of our commitment to systematically integrating sustainability at WCU,” said Lauren Bishop, WCU energy manager.

Designed to complement the contours of the site and minimize environmental impact, the 160,000-square-foot building is essentially “nested” into a mountainside, said Chad Roberson, a principal with PBC+L.

“It is a very large building, but it does not appear that way until you are inside,” said Roberson, who commended WCU for pursuing environmentally friendly design for the facility. “WCU gave us the latitude to incorporate some innovative features.”

Details such as 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. Meanwhile, the rooftop garden’s materials and design will catch and save water for the garden, while a series of sand filters and bioretention ponds near the building will minimize stormwater runoff to help protect water quality.

“These systems address the migration and reduction of stormwater runoff, which is one of the largest and most destructive sources of pollution in our state,” said Bishop. “It affects our water quality and overall health.”

The facility also is designed to encourage alternative transportation such as use of bicycles and shuttles, and rewards visitors who carpool or use electric or low-emitting vehicles with prime parking. (Bicycling to the building is being discouraged initially because of safety concerns due to a lack of bicycle lanes on the roads connecting WCU’s east and west campuses; however, discussions about adding bike lanes are under way.)

In addition, the construction process has been carefully managed to divert more than 50 percent of waste out of the landfill to be recycled and materials inside the building used recycled content and materials available regionally.

Linda Seestedt-Stanford, dean of the College of Health and Human Sciences, said the environmental and sustainability features also enhance health and wellness, which is at the heart of the building’s educational mission.

“The natural light systems designed not only reduce energy consumption and costs but also improve human performance,” said Seestedt-Stanford. “The rooftop garden provides a green space for gathering while also contributing to better air quality, stormwater management and absorption of solar radiation. By protecting the environment, we benefit the health and wellness of the individuals who use it and also support the health of our community.”

Sara Melanson, a project architect with PBC+L, said the building, the first on WCU’s West Campus, sets the tone for the site.

“Pushing the boundaries with sustainable components for the building lays a strong foundation for the future development of the campus,” said Melanson.

Also under way at WCU is a renovation project at Harrill Hall, which is being constructed to LEED certification standards.