Volume 13, Number 15   April 7, 2006

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Law College addition goes green

By Brian Cross

Drawings courtesy of Facilities Management Division.
Drawings courtesy of Facilities Management Division.

A multi-million dollar expansion at the College of Law will be the first building project on campus to meet LEED standards — a set of advanced construction guidelines that encourage energy and water conservation, environmentally friendly construction practices and building designs that maximize user comfort.

Murray Guy, project manager for the expansion, said the adoption of LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) standards will result in an environment-friendly, high-performance building that uses more local resources, makes optimal use of natural light and passive solar heat, provides greater comfort for occupants and requires less energy to construct and maintain.

“A few years ago, the concept of advanced buildings or ‘green’ buildings was way out there,” said Guy, a Saskatoon expert on advanced building technologies. “But now, the number of people interested in green buildings is growing exponentially. In a few years, it’s going to be the way everybody thinks when they talk about constructing a new building.”

LEED is a concept developed by the United States Green Building Council to promote construction of high-quality buildings that use less energy than conventional buildings and leave a relatively small environmental footprint. In Canada, LEED standards are promoted by the Canada Green Building Council, or CaGBC.

Since the standards were adopted in Canada in 2003, roughly 200 building projects have been registered with the CaGBC. So far, only one other building in Saskatchewan — the Saskatchewan Forestry Centre in Prince Albert — has earned LEED gold certification.

The LEED program allows builders and developers to earn basic, silver, gold or platinum status, depending on how many points they accumulate during construction. Points are awarded for using approved construction practices or incorporating so-called ‘green’ building components like natural lighting systems, low flush toilets and radiant heating and cooling systems, to name just a few. The law addition currently has silver status, but efforts will be made to acquire enough points to achieve gold status, according to a report to the U of S Board of Governors

Guy said people who enter a LEED-certified building may not notice any difference between it and one constructed using conventional methods and materials. “The average person might not notice anything unless they know what to look for,” he said, “but if you spend a lot of time in the building, you’ll probably notice things like enhanced performance (of building occupants), better air quality, better lighting, better temperature control and so on. Performance is a big part of constructing a sustainable building. It’s not just about energy savings, it’s also about comfort.”

Preliminary plans for the College of Law addition include a variety of ‘green’ components such as chilled ceilings for radiant cooling, durable flooring surfaces that minimize off-gassing, locally-manufactured furnishings that reduce fuel costs associated with transportation, reflective windows and shading systems to manage natural heat and light. Building planners are also considering a green roof system that uses native plants to provide additional insulation and greater aesthetic appeal. The green roof would also reduce runoff, minimizing the impact on storm sewer systems.

Chris Bergen, project planner with the U of S Facilities Management Division, said constructing a LEED certified building has forced planners to assess all aspects of construction.

“(The standards) are really helping us to take a closer look at what we are doing and the systems we are using,” he said. “For example, are the mechanical (heating and cooling) systems we’re using sustainable or are there other ways of doing things that are more efficient in terms of maintenance and operation?”

“It’s going to be a very unique building,” Bergen added, “almost like a landmark, not only on campus but also, I think, for the entire city of Saskatoon.”

Bergen suggested the law expansion will be the first of many LEED certified buildings on campus. Two upcoming projects that are part of the Academic Health Sciences Centre — a seven-storey addition to the existing health sciences building, and another complex containing meeting rooms, a library and a 500-seat lecture theatre — will also be LEED certified, he said. The addition is expected to be completed in August 2007.

“The law building is really challenging our existing campus standards,” he said. “It is going to be our model to carry forward for other projects on campus.”

Marie-Ann Bowden, a law professor involved in law college expansion, said environmental sustainability was identified as a top priority early in the planning process.

“The environmental priority emerged very prominently among all the groups involved, especially among the student population,” Bowden said. “The students, and the entire University, have been very watchful of the process and extremely supportive of the steps that have been taken as well.”

Details of the addition are not finalized but preliminary drawings show a three-storey expansion that adds about 31,000 sq. ft. to the existing building. The addition will house classrooms, offices, a new student lounge and the Native Law Centre. “We have a very high percentage of First Nations students coming through our doors and we’re very proud of that,” said Bowden. “We want the new building to (recognize that) and to be very welcoming to First Nations students as well as non-aboriginal students.”

Another priority identified during the early planning stages was the need to maintain consistency with the existing building’s design, Bowden said. “The architects have been very conscious of our desire to maintain congruity.”

Bowden described the project as a necessary expansion that will meet the growing needs of faculty, staff and students in the college. When the original law building opened in 1967, student enrollment was less than 150. In 1980, unused space in the basement was renovated and other areas were converted into offices and a lounge area. The college now houses more than 350 people including students, faculty and staff.

“We’ve just outgrown our space over time,” said Bowden. “We need more classrooms, primarily, and a few more offices for faculty…. We’re sort of catching up with the times really, and hopefully we’re going to be a little bit ahead of the curve as well.”

Brian Cross is a Saskatoon freelance writer

For more information, contact communications.office@usask.ca

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