The Business of Sustainability

A seven-year study of the UND Gorecki Alumni Center in action.

September 07, 2021 - by commARCH
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The Business of Sustainability

Courtesy of JLG Architects

Where did it happen?
Grand Forks, North Dakota N.D

Who was involved?
In 2013, the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks, N.D., began working with JLG Architects as the design lead for the new alumni center, creating a real-life example of sustainable practices in action.

What was the challenge?
Creating a highly sustainable design with a focus on indoor/outdoor connectivity that would provide a transition between the campus’ traditional collegiate gothic style, and the future focus of the nearby technology centers.

What was the solution?
To provide proof of performance with verified data, the university closely evaluated the center’s net-zero design over its first seven years. Ultimately, the studies were quick to confirm the benefits, outperforming early predictions with cost savings substantial enough to convince any CEO to re-examine their workspace.

Proven Studies + Savings
With the idea that sustainable design practices are only as good as their proven results, the team, led by JLG Architects, embarked on a seven-year post-occupancy evaluation spanning 2013 to 2020, studying the building’s energy efficiency, cost savings, and employee satisfaction.

The highly efficient system is the first-of-its-kind in extreme cold, providing 100% of the building’s heating and cooling from a ground source heat pump system. Unlike typical systems, there is no backup or supplemental heating and cooling equipment needed.

Courtesy of JLG Architects 

 

Welcoming Wellness
Inside the alumni center, JLG strategically designed every square foot to minimize resource use, harvest natural light, and optimize the environment for employees and visitors to thrive. The plan was a massive success, now serving as a perfect case study to finally demonstrate long-term cost benefits in sustainably designed commercial properties -- the structures that typically have the largest footprint.

Inhale, Exhale, Engage
The alumni center’s indoor common spaces near large glass areas are closely connected to outdoor features like the firepit and seating area to help bring the outside in. These spaces are not simply for vanity—engaging spatial experiences have been known to increase brain function, reduce stress, and even improve eye health.

While the first floor is an open concept that can transition per occasion, the second and third floors are designed with employees in mind. Here, staff can adjust lighting and set their own temperature with comfort controls.

Restoring People & Place
With multi-faceted purpose and inclusive public space for students and community alike, the GAC’s concept attracted many donors – one even gifting $1.5 million in support of the building’s LEED® Platinum goals.

What were the results?
This was not solely a cost-saving and aesthetic design mission – UND was also motivated to educate the community, visitors, and students by actively demonstrating sustainable investments in extremely cold climates.

With the help of UND and generous project partners, was a gateway to the future of sustainable design practices with measurable benefits. Altogether, it had not only met but also exceeded all national benchmarks in sustainable design certification, showing that high-performance design can be achieved while lowering the total cost of ownership.

Proven Studies + Savings
On average, the 30,000 square-foot building is achieving a 54% energy use reduction, compared to national usage in climates such as North Dakota. The study also showed a corresponding reduction in CO2 emissions, and a 38% reduction in water use, compared to standard buildings. In fact, actual energy has achieved about $277,000 of energy cost savings (2013-2020) compared to baseline, and the building has shown potential to be $950,000 net revenue-positive over 30 years.

The GAC’s progressive heating and cooling system has also demonstrated impressive results. The unique process regulates temps and dramatically reduces energy costs, saving UND approximately $38,000 in annual energy costs, according to city utility costs.

Welcoming Wellness
Every day since completion, the building and university is collecting data, surveying its overall efficiency, occupant comfort, and usability. When the results were tallied in November 2020, it was even more positive than the partners had predicted. An occupant survey showed the GAC outperforms the UC Berkley CBE Database (97% satisfied), which represents thousands of projects across the country. With 97% of the building’s occupied spaces having outdoor views, it’s no wonder it scored well with occupants.

Inhale, Exhale, Engage
Throughout the building, superior air quality is emphasized. The GAC’s engineering provides 25% more outside air to the inside than typical buildings and uses 60% less energy to do so. Thanks to abundant natural light and better air quality, the post-occupancy survey showed the GAC’s staff is averaging 15% more productivity with fewer sick days.

Restoring People & Place
Since opening in 2013, the alumni center has continued to impress by hosting hundreds of thousands of people at events and tours, making it the most influential, sustainable building in the region.

Courtesy of JLG Architects 

 

What product(s) were involved?
For more information visit, grandforksherald.com.