Northern Kentucky University making green initiatives a pririoty with facilities

NKU's philosophy: The greener the better
NKU's philosophy: The greener the better
Posted at 12:00 PM, Jun 25, 2016
and last updated 2016-06-25 14:39:39-04

HIGHLAND HEIGHTS, Ky. — As Northern Kentucky University unveils its newly renovated Campus Recreation Center, it can boast about its state-of-the-art facilities. But as much as an eight-lane natatorium, 17,000-foot weight room/fitness space and a bouldering wall are worthy of promotion, NKU is just as proud of how environmentally friendly their new building it.

While the Campus Recreation Center inside the Albright Health Center is now the "greenest" building at NKU, earning gold LEED certification from the U.S. Green Building Council, it's just the latest effort to create green facilities throughout the Highland Heights campus.

It’s not just new buildings the university is looking to make efficient and green. As a signatory to the American College and University Presidents Carbon Commitment, NKU is committed to achieving carbon neutrality by 2050.

“We are really starting to actively pursue energy efficiency in existing buildings as a campus culture, it’s not just something we do in new buildings,” said Becki Lanter, director of energy management for NKU.

LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) is globally recognized symbol of excellence in green building. Developed by the U.S. Green Building Council, the certification system includes nine measurements for building excellence, from water efficiency to the materials used in construction. A project can earn one of four rating levels: LEED Certified, LEED Silver, LEED Gold or LEED Platinum.

The renovated Campus Recreation Center turned out even more green than NKU imagined.

“We designed the project to be LEED Silver, and we are very happy to report that the project exceeded our expectations in achieving LEED Gold status,” said Syed Zaidi, assistant vice president for facilities management. “We are committed to incorporating sustainable features into the planning, design, and construction of every new facility on campus, and we are pleased that those efforts have been recognized.”

The renovation and expansion of the center were completed in October 2015. The Campus Recreation Center grew from 84,000 square feet to 169,000, at a price tag of $48 million. The state-of-the-art amenities are available for free to NKU students, faculty, and staff. Community members can use the facility for a fee.

Griffin Hall, built in 2011, was the first building to achieve LEED certification at NKU, but it was certified at the silver level.

Griffin Hall at Northern Kentucky University. (Timothy D. Sofranko | NKU)

“In 2009, the state of Kentucky required large state funded buildings to achieve LEED silver status,” Lanter said. “We were shooting for silver in our design, but achieving gold status is something we were very pleased with.”

Some of the features that helped the building gain gold LEED status are: 80 geothermal wells, each 400 feet deep, heat and cool the facility; renovating part of an existing building rather than building a new one, which reduced the amount of waste sent to landfills was reduced by 75 percent; the landscape design and plant selections, which helped reduce the demand for water irrigation by 50 percent; and the building being 36 percent more energy-efficient than baseline building performance standards.

“Every time you do these projects, you get a little better,” Lanter said. “With this project we were able to reuse the existing building. That kept us from needing additional material. Things like floors and walls, rather than remove and replace, we kept them as much as possible.”

Lanter said how water is used is a key component in the buildings' efficiency.

“Energy efficiency and water efficiency are things that achieve a long-term gain for the university," she said. "Geothermal is a highly efficient HVAC system, and the irrigation is something we’re really excited about, and it goes back to water efficiency.”

She also said the building used fritted glass glaze, which reduces heat gain from the sun while allowing in natural light.

“There’s some real value in bringing that glass in,” Lanter said. “It improves the way campus looks and feels.”

The lessons of these two projects are being applied to the Health Innovation Center, which is under construction and expected to open in 2018.

“We’re definitely going to have silver certification, and hopefully be in a position where gold is achievable as well,” Lanter said. “But we certainly don’t want to do anything that doesn’t make sense for the university just to achieve a rating. Energy efficiency and water efficiency are smart for the university to do even if we weren’t pursuing statuses.

“We want to be good stewards with the resources we have.”