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Eckerd College finishing $25M science center full of eco-friendly perks

ST. PETERSBURG — As Eckerd College began planning its $25 million state-of-the-art science building with an eye toward environmental sustainability, taking advantage of one of the world's largest water reclamation systems seemed a given.

So when the James Center for Molecular and Life Sciences opens on Jan. 31, its heating, ventilation and air-conditioning system will use reclaimed water from St. Petersburg's reclamation plant nearby.

The move will save thousands of gallons of water a day and is one of several measures expected to earn the second highest LEED certification for the new building. LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.

"We have a faculty and student body that are very concerned about environmental issues,'' said Donald R. Eastman, president of Eckerd. "I think the heating and cooling of the building, using the water treatment plant next door, is one of the most innovative things."

The Eckerd system is unique in St. Petersburg, said Mike Connors, the city's public works administrator. Not only is the college using recycled water for its HVAC system, it is returning the water to the city to again be reused.

"It's a win-win for everybody," he said.

Eckerd has tapped into other technologies to create what Bill McKenna, the college's director of planning, development and construction, has called a "smart" building.

For instance, he said, sensors automatically turn on lights as a person walks down a corridor or into a room and turn them off when not needed. The building also features a sprayed-on foam, solar-reflective "cool" roof. Cool roofs can reduce air-conditioning needs, improve thermal comfort for spaces that are not air-conditioned, and decrease the roof temperature, which can result in longer life, according to a 2010 Department of Energy report. Cool roofs also make buildings more airtight, saving air-conditioning, McKenna said.

The project's anticipated LEED Gold status is one of four rankings bestowed internationally by the U.S. Green Building Council, with Platinum being the highest, followed by Gold, Silver and "Certified." Projects earn points in categories that include water efficiency, energy performance and use of sustainable materials.

At Eckerd, waterless urinals, Florida-friendly landscaping, bamboo veneers and plenty of natural light are among the sustainability efforts at the new building. Hurricane-resistant windows have been coated to reduce infrared and ultraviolet light, with exterior awning-like shades increasing energy conservation. The 55,000-square-foot center, named for benefactors Tom James, executive chairman of Raymond James Financial, and his wife, Mary, was designed in shape of a skewed "H" and oriented on the property to enhance energy savings.

Last year, Punit Jain of Cannon Design, the center's architects, and Laura Wetzel, professor of marine science and geosciences at Eckerd, spoke about the project at an International Institute for Sustainable Laboratories conference.

The center, they said, is "on the cutting edge of sustainability" and designed "to respond to its warm Florida environment, maximize energy and cost savings, consider space utilization, and adapt to future flexibility."

"It's been a real exciting process," Wetzel said during a tour of the building that will house biology, chemistry and biochemistry programs and emphasize collaboration among the sciences.

Wetzel pointed out numerous fume hoods in biology and chemistry labs, many more than in the college's older Sheen Science complex. The fume hoods exhaust chemical fumes through artfully disguised towers in the roof. Additionally, sensors indicate when the hoods are open and make adjustments to be sure there is proper indoor air quality within the labs. The sensors also minimize lost air-conditioning.

"Science buildings by their very nature are energy hogs," McKenna said. "The building will use about 30 percent less energy than a typical science building."

Energy reduction has been a primary consideration, Eastman said. "From really the outset, that's been foremost in the conversation," he said.

By far the most touted eco-friendly feature is the use of reclaimed water for the building's HVAC system, doing away with the need to evaporate potable water at a rate of 2,000 to 3,000 gallons per day.

Generally, there is a need for a cooling tower and the use of "large quantities of fresh water," McKenna said.

Instead, Wetzel explained in an email, "The reclaimed water from the city comes to the building, goes into the heat exchanger, comes out of the heat exchanger warmer than it went in, and goes back to the reclaimed-water plant. No evaporation. No mixing. No loss or addition of water."

The college built its own piping system — purple, the standard industry color for recycled water — to connect to the city's Southwest Reclamation Facility at 34th Street S. The building's circulating chilled water is carried in white pipes.

For Eastman, Eckerd's new building represents yet another example of a green commitment at the college, which has student-run recycling, a campus bicycle sharing program and reusable to-go containers.

"Putting a lighter footprint on the earth is what most thoughtful people agree on," Eastman said.

Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at wmoore@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2283.

if you go

Worth a look

Grand opening, James Center for Molecular and Life Sciences, 3 to 5:30 p.m. Jan. 31; ribbon cutting, open house and festivities, 4200 54th Ave. S, St. Petersburg.

Fourth Annual Eckerd College Science Symposium, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Feb. 9, featuring research, lectures, posters and more by Eckerd alumni, faculty and students; eckerd.edu/science.

Eckerd College finishing $25M science center full of eco-friendly perks 12/04/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, December 4, 2012 4:35pm]
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