Being in a hospital can be a frightening experience. Medical equipment beeps and whirrs in a sterile environment can heighten the concern about a prognosis. However, a caring staff that is knowledgeable about the latest medical treatments and research can make a patient feel more at ease because he or she is in capable hands.

Geisinger Health System, Danville, Pa., consistently has been recognized as a leader in health care and medical research during its nearly 100-year history. However, the organization did not have a centralized location in which to share its research findings with its clinicians who serve 40 counties and 2.5 million people in central and northeastern Pennsylvania. In 2004, administrators decided to build the Geisinger Center for Health Research specifically to provide collaboration between researchers and clinicians, as well as host guest lectures. Philadelphia-based EwingCole, which has a more-than-40-year history of designing health-care structures for Geisinger Health System, served as architect and interior designer, as well as structural, mechanical, electrical, plumbing and fire-protection engineer, for the new building.

“This project was something the Geisinger facility staff had never done before on their health-care campus,” explains Peter Levasseur, AIA, LEED AP, director of sustainable design for EwingCole. “They were building a conference center, which isn’t their typical building type, and they were trying to create this special place that not only would provide training and a conference center for the health-care experts in their organization, but also would attract some of the best health-care providers and personnel from around the country.”

The successful project, which achieved LEED for New Construction Silver from the Washington, D.C.-based U.S. Green Building Council, set the stage for Geisinger Health System to mandate all its future buildings be at least LEED Certified.

Photo Courtesy of Halkin Photography LLC

According to Levasseur, not being a clinical-care facility more easily allowed the Geisinger Center for Health Research to integrate LEED-NC standards from the beginning. “Because this wasn’t a complex hospital addition or an intensive project with operating rooms or MRI units, it’s more in linewith the original LEED-NC rating system,” he says. “There was a lot of discussion about this being the right match to become Geisinger’s first LEED-certified project.” Fortunately, Geisinger Health System administrators supported the initiative to seek LEED certification. The organization’s multi-building campus features typical institutional buildings that are mostly brick construction. EwingCole’s design team envisioned the new, collaborative building to reflect the many modern services Geisinger Health System provides today. “A clear design intent included making this a unique building for the campus,” Levasseur notes. “EwingCole’s designers wanted people coming out of the existing older buildings to come into this top-notch facility and have access to collaborative meeting facilities, as well as a green roof, lots of daylight and multiple views—critical elements of successful sustainable design.”

The 67,000-square-foot (6224-m2) Geisinger Center for Health Research is situated to exemplify its purpose: People coming from the clinical and research buildings cross paths at the center. “This crossroads manifested itself as curving glass on one side [of the building] and curving metal panels on the other,” explains Stephen Gastright, project architect with EwingCole. “This dynamic use of different materials coming together on the site became a very unique property of the building.”

Metal was chosen because it provides the desired modern look; durability; and sustainable aspects, including recycled content, recyclability and insulating value. The glass, which curves from southeast to southwest because of site relationships and building massing, provides the openness the client desired. In addition, the building’s narrow floor plate maximizes daylight penetration into work spaces, conference rooms and meeting rooms.

“When we were designing, we did a lot of daylight-modeling studies so we could see how much daylight was actually coming into the office areas,” says Mary Alcaraz, principal with EwingCole. “We were really getting a tremendous amount of daylight, which was useful in saving additional amounts of energy.”

The lighting design purposely balanced performance, energy efficiency, aesthetics and maintenance needs throughout the space. Electric-lighting levels average 1.04 watts per square foot, which was achieved through reduced-lighting levels in low-occupancy areas, a daylight-harvesting dimmable ballast system, occupancy sensors and the usage of a T5HO lamp system. Initially, the maintenance staff was apprehensive about using T5HO lamps but was convinced when usage of T5s required 184 lighting fixtures compared with 317 T8s. The T5s also saved $80,000 in initial costs. Geisinger Health Systems now has committed to using T5s in all future projects.

The 24,178-square-foot (2246-m2) roof features a 4,500-square-foot (418-m2) vegetated roof system on top of the building’s auditorium and conference center. Because third-floor offices overlook the conference-center roof, the vegetated roof made aesthetic and environmental sense.

“There was discussion about glare and just the appearance of a standard white roof, so initially the thought was a green roof would look better,” Levasseur remarks. The roof features sedum, grasses and wildflowers and helps manage storm water and the heat-island effect. A white, thermoplastic polyolefin low-slope roof covers the building’s upper roof portions and also decreases the heat-island effect. The two roof systems provided a tolerable cost upgrade that did not overwhelm the budget’s bottom line.

When designing a green building in Pennsylvania, architects and engineers must consider winter versus summer energy use. For this health-care campus, that consideration manifested itself in the design of a new central plant. “Pennsylvania’s climate includes long spells of winter heating requirements and summer temperatures that can get very warm,” says Jason Fierko, mechanical engineer with EwingCole. “The central-plant design resulted in greater energy efficiencies. When combined with better building and mechanical designs, such as high-performance glazing, increased insulation and demand-control ventilation, actual peak-energy loads are reduced, resulting in an energy system that performs 40 percent better than ASHRAE 90.1-1999 standards.”

Photo Courtesy of Halkin Photography LLC

Although a central plant cost more than the budget allowed, Alan Neuner, associate vice president of facility operations for Geisinger Health Systems, was a staunch supporter. “In my career with facilities, the big issue is always construction cost,” Neuner says. “Construction costs are only 11 percent of the life-cycle costs of a building, and 50 percent of the costs are the ongoing operating expenses during a 40-year period. Doing the right things up-front pays dividends.” The plant utilizes three 500-ton (454-metric ton) centrifugal chillers—one spare—that serve the Geisinger Center for Health Research, Sigfried and Janet Weis Center for Research, and Foss Clinic. Although the Geisinger Center for Health Research, which opened in March 2007, is not individually metered, Neuner studied a period of energy use 18 months before the new building was opened to six months before it was opened as a baseline. He disregarded the six months immediately prior to opening because the new building’s systems were running manually to flush the building. As a comparative period, Neuner examined the one year after the Geisinger Center for Health Research was opened and compared it to the baseline period. “The Geisinger Center for Health Research consumed 833,195 kilowatt hours in its first year of operation, averaging 75 cents per square foot, or $50,000, annually,” Neuner relates.

Three variable air-volume air-handling units deliver supply air to the center’s office spaces and conference rooms, and a single-zone constant-volume air-handling unit delivers conditioned air to the main auditorium. The VAV units utilize variable-frequency drives to control fan speed based on system pressure. Demand-controlled ventilation is based on a calculated carbon-dioxide differential.

Notes: The Geisinger Center for Health Research uses 1,374,099 pounds (623281 kg), or $14,000, of campus steam each year for heating. “We closely monitor our systems with a building-automation system, and we’re constantly tweaking them to get the systems to their optimum,” Neuner says.  The building's footprint is 67000 square feet (6224m2). The total cost: $21,000,000. 


  • Client / Geisinger Health System, Danville, Pa.,  
  • Architect, interior designer, lighting designer / EwingCole, Philadelphia,  
  • Structural, mechanical, electrical, plumbing and fire-protection engineer / EwingCole
  • Civil engineer / Borton Lawson, Wilkes-Barre, Pa.,  
  • Landscape design and installation / Ettinger’s Landscaping, Montoursville, Pa.,  
  • General contractor / Geisinger Health System
  • Commissioning agent / Flood & Sterling/Beta Engineers, New Cumberland, Pa.,  
Rendering Courtesy of EwingCole