A lot can change between project conceptualization and completion. Budgets often tighten, needs can evolve, and new goals may emerge. In the best of circumstances, the project team can embrace the waves of change and use them as a springboard to innovate.
Such was the case at Northern Arizona University (NAU) in Flagstaff, Ariz. The university has seen nearly double-digit enrollment increases each year since 2004 and with this rapid growth, the institution has found itself expanding its facilities.
“We had outgrown our recreation center even before it was completed back in 1989, so it has been too small for over 20 years,” says Jane Kuhn, associate vice president of NAU. “We’re also busting at the seams in health services and disability resources and counseling.”
The NAU Health and Learning Center began as several projects. The university’s outdated recreation center needed to be replaced and brought up to speed with NCAA Title IX requirements. The campus’ Lumberjack Stadium was scheduled to be torn down in 2011, and one plan was to rebuild it along with new athletic facilities.
At the same time, NAU was planning the Wellness Center, a project that would bring the student health program—currently spread throughout campus in four separate facilities—into one space. The university also was working with the state legislature on a project through the state’s Stimulus Program for Economic and Educational Development (SPEED) program that would divide $1 billion from lottery revenues among three universities.
“We submitted our plans for what we would do with our third of the money, and one of those things was to build a new general-purpose, high-tech classroom facility,” Kuhn recalls. “Early in the design phase of what was then the Wellness Center, the SPEED funding got cut. We lost the funding dedicated to the new classroom facilities, so we decided to add two additional floors to the wellness facility to accommodate those classrooms. Because of economies of scale, the cost is much less than if it would have been a stand-alone building.”
Thus, all these varied initiatives merged into the 270,000-square-foot Health and Learning Center. Scheduled for completion in August 2011, the project will house recreation, athletics, academics, and student health services, as well as the rebuilt Lumberjack Stadium.
“What started out as 120,000 square feet of building program now combines the services of five less-efficient facilities in one 265,000-square-foot high-performance building,” explains Jason Boyer, principal with Phoenix-based OWP/P | Cannon Design and design leader on the NAU project. “That is a pretty sustainable concept. It is also cost effective; we saved nearly $12 million for the university by designing five facilities into one project.”
The state of Arizona requires all public agencies to build to a minimum LEED Silver certification, but with the Health and Learning Center, NAU is aiming to earn LEED Gold. “We try to get beyond LEED Silver if we can,” Kuhn says. “Our university president has signed the Campus Climate Challenge, so we’re very active in green building and sustainability efforts.”
Approaching a project of this magnitude, it was important to take an integrated design approach. “We knew a high level of sustainability thinking was important, so we started the project with a climate engineering charette,” Boyer explains. “We got the entire team—designers, engineers, and consultants—in a room and facilitated a workshop about what sustainable concepts we could incorporate into the project.”
Energy efficiency became a primary goal; the team has targeted a performance level exceeding ASHRAE 90.1 2004 standards by 40 percent. Strategies to reach this goal include a tight envelope design, increased daylighting, and an estimated 23 percent reduction in lighting power density.
“Energy is one of our biggest concerns because of our seasons. It does snow here and it does get cold. We have heating bills in the winter and cooling bills in the summer,” Kuhn asserts. “We’re always looking for energy-efficient methods.”
The project was able to find major savings both in energy and in up-front costs. “By going with a chilled-beam system in the building, we reduced the number of air handlers from 20 to 12,” Boyer says. “It also reduced our floor-to-floor height by 6 inches on each floor, saving us a few feet on the overall envelope height.” These types of savings impact the building’s long-term operation, but also make a major impact to first costs. “While the initial cost of a chilled-beam system is higher, when you factor in the square footage savings in not having as many mechanical rooms, the reduced costs, number of air-handling units, and the other intangibles that go with reduced skin heights, we actually were able to save $2.5 million off the top,” Boyer notes.
Water conservation is another major goal. While Flagstaff’s climate is more temperate than other parts of the state, water is in limited quantity and sunlight is abundant, as in other Southwestern cities. With that in mind, the Health and Learning Center will incorporate a solar hot water heating solution. The building’s roof will utilize 100 solar panels to heat approximately 70 percent of the facility’s hot water. Because it is an athletic and recreation center with showers, water demand is high. The energy saved from the solar hot water system alone is expected to represent a 6 percent overall reduction in building energy usage over a standard design.
NAU also is able to recover almost 60 percent of the initial cost of the solar installation through local utility provider programs and federal incentive programs. Along with specifying low-flow water fixtures, toilets, and urinals, the campus is able to use Flagstaff’s graywater loop and will use recaptured water for things such as land-scape irrigation, as well as toilet and urinal flushing. This should reduce potable water usage by 45 percent.
The center began construction in October and is the largest building project ever undertaken by NAU. At its heart, however, the facility truly will be for the students and will provide state-of-the-art services without forgetting the human element. “One of the big drivers is to provide physical and visual connectivity throughout the building, inside and out,” Boyer says. More than 30 percent of the building’s skin will be glazing, providing daylighting and views of Flagstaff’s breathtaking mountain scenery. The facility is oriented so that much of the glazing is on the north and south faces, while the east and west façades are shielded with overhangs and punched openings.
The design also incorporates what Boyer calls “sticky space,” areas that support chance encounters for students and faculty. “In the past a student union consisted of a dining hall, some conference rooms, a few support services, and maybe a bowling alley or pool hall. Those programs are no longer relevant to how students live, study, and learn,” Boyer says. “This building anchors an emerging trend toward combining programs and creating facilities where students can thrive through learning and interaction with each other on a nearly 24/7 basis.”