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Physical Sciences Building gets gold rating for green design

The new Physical Sciences Building, which houses cutting-edge chemistry, physics and applied physics research, has earned designation as an environmentally friendly structure.

Officially completed in 2010, the building has been awarded LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Gold certification, established by the U.S. Green Building Council and verified by the Green Building Certification Institute. The building earned 47 out of the possible 69 LEED points to be rated gold -- the second-highest rating, after platinum. LEED awards points in such categories as energy use, lighting, water, materials and design innovation.

"From the beginning of the project, having a sustainable building was a goal," said Gary Wilhelm, project director at Cornell Planning, Design and Construction. "For this project to be gold certified and short of platinum certified by only a couple of points is really pretty amazing. Much more difficult than, say, for an office building."

Designers and engineers faced numerous challenges adhering to green building guidelines due to the project's scale and scope as a science building, Wilhelm said.

Chemistry buildings in particular are among the largest energy users on campus due to fume hood systems and required rapid air turnover, said Matt Kozlowski, environmental project coordinator with facilities engineering and LEED project administrator.

"Both the building designers and Cornell's engineering and utilities staff recognized the importance of designing a highly efficient laboratory after studying the energy consumption from traditionally designed laboratory spaces," Kozlowski said.

The building is equipped with sensors that increase or decrease ventilation based on whether the space is occupied. Air from office spaces is also reused in lab spaces, as this air has been preheated or cooled. Finally, before being exhausted outdoors, a heat recovery system recaptures a portion of the heat energy, which is then used to temper the incoming fresh air.

Other efficiency measures include a white roofing system, light-colored paving to reduce heat gain in the building and a rainwater capture system for irrigation in the Rockefeller terrace plantings. In addition, the project site is an infill location: It shares walls with two existing buildings, improving thermal performance of both the older buildings by reducing exterior walls that can lose heat, Kozlowski said.

Wilhelm credited architects at Koetter Kim & Associates and engineering firm Stantec (formerly Burt Hill Kosar Rittelmann) with much of the expertise to make the rating possible.

The achievement is in keeping with Cornell's commitment, outlined in a 2008 board of trustees resolution, to achieve a LEED Silver or higher rating on all new building projects costing more than $5 million. Wilhelm pointed out that the Physical Sciences Building was in planning stages well before that commitment was made.

Weill Hall, the life sciences building completed in 2008, also received a LEED Gold rating. Other LEED-rated campus facilities: Riley-Robb biofuels lab, LEED Gold, 2010; Combined Heat and Power Plant offices, LEED Gold, 2011; and Alice Cook House, LEED Certified, 2005.

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Blaine Friedlander