The following is from the September 3, 2006, edition of The Dallas Morning News.
By JAMES M. O'NEILL
The Dallas Morning News
Engineering students entering their classrooms this fall at Southern Methodist University are learning the latest engineering concepts not only from their professors, but from the classrooms themselves – the walls, the windows, the floors, the cabinetry – as well as from the hallway outside, the bathroom down the hall, even the building's main lobby.
This wall of SMU's J. Lindsay Embrey Building incorporates Austin shellstone, Texas limestone, Jerusalem limestone and chrome. Materials came from within 500 miles of campus.
SMU's new $16 million engineering building is on track to be the first college building in Texas to be certified as environmentally friendly by the leading arbiter of such things, the U.S. Green Building Council. The structure will save the university an estimated $70,000 in energy costs annually, but the bigger impact will be its use as a learning tool for the next generation of North Texas civil and mechanical engineers.
"The hottest thing in engineering is sustainable design, and we felt we couldn't effectively teach it unless we had a building that represented it," said Dr. Geoffrey Orsak, dean of SMU's engineering school.
Dr. Orsak said members of the SMU team decided to shoot for the council's accreditation when they started planning the building in 2004, but they didn't know which level they would achieve.
They are now confident they'll win Gold Level status, the second-highest among four categories of certification in the building council's rating system, which was unveiled in 2000 and is known as LEED – shorthand for "Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design."
Only 14 college buildings across the country have Gold Level certification, and some of those are residence halls, athletic centers and offices. Designing an instructional building such as SMU's has the added hurdle of providing appropriate venting for laboratory space, where students can learn to use lasers and study how different materials interact.
Another design challenge: The building's exterior had to fit in with the "collegiate Georgian" red-brick style that dominates SMU's campus.
SMU officials say that meeting the LEED criteria added 3 percent to the construction costs.
The building is designed to be environmentally friendly in a number of ways. For instance, the landscaping will be irrigated with water recycled from the campus air-conditioning chillers – water that would otherwise get dumped into the sewer.
In addition, the men's restrooms have flushless urinals, each of which can save 40,000 gallons of water a year. Windows throughout the building are larger to let in more natural light and reduce the need for interior lights, increasing energy efficiency. Lights in offices, classrooms and hallways are attached to sensors that turn them on only when someone is present.
Sam Latona, manager of pre-construction services for Turner Corp., the project's contractor, said that during construction, at least 75 percent of the rubble generated by the project – extra pieces of metal, sliced-off corners of wallboard – was recycled. Materials used in the building came from within 500 miles of campus, he said, to reduce transportation costs and pollution.
Inside the building, materials were also chosen with the environment in mind, including carpets and paints that don't emit gases from chemicals and laboratory cabinetry made from wheat. The lumber came from companies that follow certain forest management standards, and some cloth in dividers between work stations was made from corn. SMU purchased the furnishings from Herman Miller Inc., a major supplier of office furniture with an environmental emphasis.
The impact on the larger environment is only one goal in the building's design. The building is also intended to improve the productivity and well-being of those inside. Elevators exist – but they are hidden, while stairs are prominently placed to encourage staff members and students to choose the healthier way to change floors.
The abundance of natural light is supposed to improve productivity. Some studies suggest that daylight increases visual comfort, prompting improved performance, Dr. Orsak said.
With that in mind, the building features a central ellipse with skylights at the top that let natural light into the center of the building's three stories.
Many building materials were chosen to reflect different branches of engineering – limestone for civil and environmental engineering, stainless steel for mechanical engineering. The faculty offices include a waiting room for students, much like offices of a professional engineering firm.
"We wanted to establish a visible presence for the engineering school that reflects the different role the field plays today," Dr. Orsak said. "In the past, engineering departments were often stuck in the basement on college campuses. We want to establish a sense of the profession of engineering."
The first hurdle SMU had to tackle before constructing an environmentally friendly building was an upgrade of its campuswide air-conditioning chiller equipment so it could accommodate a type of Freon that is less likely to leak.
With the new building's air conditioning attached to the central campus equipment, this $1 million upgrade was necessary to achieve LEED certification. But it will also enable SMU to build more LEED-certified buildings. The university plans to renovate some of its residence halls next summer to meet LEED standards.
The new engineering building is named for J. Lindsay Embrey, a civil-engineering major from SMU's Class of '45 and chairman of First Continental Enterprises, a construction and development company. Before Mr. Embrey died, he and his wife, Bobbie, gave SMU $7 million toward the building in 2003.
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