By Megan Northcote
Sept. 26, 2012. Floors made from recycled tires and carpet made from renewable wool are among some of the sustainable features appearing in the new Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), gold certified addition to the Plemmons Student Union, under construction since early 2011 on Appalachian State University’s campus.
ASU continues to blaze ahead as a leader in campus wide sustainability with the opening of this four-story, 50,000 square foot addition to the Student Union in January 2013.
Project visionary and lead building design administrator, David Robertson, Director of Student Programs at ASU, first proposed the idea for an addition to the Student Union in 2005 when he realized the original Student Union could no longer accommodate the demand for the number of student clubs and organizations.
Nearly 8,000 students utilize the current Student Union per weekday, Monday through Friday, Robertson said.
The construction of this new building was a logical solution to meeting the increased demand.
“We wanted it to be one of the campus signature buildings,” Robertson said. “The Student Union is intended to be the place on campus to develop community at ASU. We wanted to design of the building to feel open, inviting and welcome. We wanted it to be one of the greenest, most sustainable buildings on our campus.”
Building ASU’s Sustainable Future
In accordance with the university’s Campus Master Plan 2020, ASU’s Board of Trustees decreed all new buildings and major renovations on campus meet, at a minimum, LEED Silver standards as determined by the U.S. Green Building Council.
The addition to the new Student Union, a 20 million dollar project, funded entirely by student fees, is no exception in its sustainable design.
To meet LEED gold certification, Robertson said, the building will utilize the most efficient, fully dimmable, motion and light censored LED lighting, which is nearly twice as efficient as florescent bulbs currently used in the original Student Union.
“In the current Student Union, there are between 800 and 1,000 florescent lights, and that makes for constant maintenance work [replacing burnt out bulbs],” Robertson said. “In a building with LED lighting, 50,000 hours should be eight to ten years of use of the lights before we have to replace any.”
In addition, wide windows in nearly all the meeting and office rooms provide an abundance of supplemental natural lighting.
To help students stay more alert, oxygen sensors are incorporated into each room and are activated to release more fresh air from outside when oxygen levels are depleted.
“People generally get drowsy in an indoor setting because they are in a crowded space and the oxygen levels are going up while the carbon dioxide levels are going down, and that makes you sleepy,” Robertson said.
The LEED innovation which Robertson is most proud of implementing, which he saw being successfully used at the University of Kansas, is an HVAC system (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning), which is interfaced with a computer program that shuts down heating and air flow when the office or meeting room is not in use, and activates the system 30 minutes prior to the beginning of a reserved event.
Robertson estimates this new HVAC system will provide over 30 percent reduction in energy expense in heating and cooling this new building, offering a reduction in student expenses.
Other sustainability features include: water bottle refilling stations which count the number of plastic bottles saved from the landfill as a result of students, faculty and staff using refillable bottles; a limit of one copier per floor to reduce energy use; and a push for digital signage when advertising campus events in a push to save paper.
“The University is committed to operating as a sustainable community,” Robertson said. “Global warming is a reality. We all have a responsibility to start living in a more sustainable way or we’re literally going to burn this planet up.”
Serving the Needs of the Student Body
The new addition to the Student Union will also bring a lot of student service departments together under one roof, making them more accessible to students, while increasing the likelihood students will take advantage of these services, Robertson said.
“It occurred to me that there were some departments on this campus that offer wonderful services to students, but many students don’t even know they exist, or maybe they’ve heard of it, but don’t know where it is,” Robertson said. “I think a lot of students are very reluctant to go seek out something that they’ve only heard about if they’ve never even seen it.”
The departments housed inside the addition to the Union include: Appalachian and Community Together [ACT] offices and ACT Community Outreach Center, the Center for Student Involvement and Leadership, Multi-Cultural Student Development, International Education and Development, Office of Student Research, Dean of Students, Family and Parent Programs and the Office of Student Conduct.
Design layout plans for the building reflect the need for heightened visibility of departments, with glass panel office fronts for each department located directly along the main hallways.
“This shared and collaborative approach to serving students should lead to strengthened partnerships across student development and academic affairs units and ultimately lead to better learning opportunities for students,” Augusto Pena, Director of the Office of Multicultural Student Development said.
Likewise, Alan Utter, Director of the Office of Student Research, anticipates that his office, formerly housed in the John E. Thomas Academic Support Services Building, will raise student awareness of the services offered by this department in its new central location on campus.
“There is tremendous demand for the services offered through the Office of Student Research by our Faculty, undergraduate and graduate students,” Utter said. “The new building and associated additional space will provide more opportunities for Appalachian students to work side-by-side with our Faculty to learn the steps involved in new knowledge creation, discoveries, and artistic/creative endeavors.”
The ACT office, the community service and service-learning center on campus, will include more space for eight computers for students to research local nonprofits in the High Country at which they might be interested in volunteering.
To accommodate general student needs, each floor includes a Commons area as well as department meeting rooms, which become available to any University affiliated student club or organizations at 6 p.m. every weeknight.
The Parkway Ballroom, located on the fourth floor, will serve as the primary event room, capable of seating 400 people, Brad Vest, Associate Director for Union Operations, said. Upholding the building’s commitment to sustainability, the ballroom will feature wool carpeting, the most renewable fiber on the market, as well as wood paneling on the ceilings harvested from sustainable forests.
Additionally, Vest said, the new Union will carry on the tradition of the original Union by naming each meeting room and student commons or lounge area after a natural attraction in the High Country, such as Elk Knob, Tater Hill, Linville Falls, and Bass Lake, enticing students to get out and explore their community.
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