Research Building Recognized for Green Design

March 01, 2012

The University of Rochester Medical Center’s (URMC) Saunders Research Building has received Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Gold certification in recognition of a design that promotes sustainability and the health of its occupants. This is the first building at the University of Rochester to receive a LEED certification. 

“We are very proud that the Saunders Research Building has been recognized for its green design,” said Bradford C. Berk, M.D., Ph.D., CEO of URMC. “This designation is the product of an incredible team of individuals who not only designed and built a building that sets a new standard for sustainability at the University of Rochester, but one that by design will also serve as a model for scientific collaboration and innovation.” 

LEED certification – established by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) – is the nation’s preeminent program for the design, construction, and operation of high performance green buildings. The certification process is based on an evaluation of a building’s planning and design, energy savings, water efficiency, CO2 emissions reduction, indoor environmental air quality, and construction criteria.

“With each new LEED-certified building, we get one step closer to USGBC’s vision of a sustainable built environment within a generation,” said Rick Fedrizzi, President, CEO & Founding Chair of USGBC. “As the newest member of the LEED family of green buildings, the University of Rochester Medical Center’s Saunders Research Building is an important addition to the growing strength of the green building movement.”

One of the core elements of the Saunders Research Building’s design is energy efficiency as exemplified by the building’s “daylight harvesting” systems. The building’s East-West orientation and narrow footprint maximizes exposure to sunlight.  The exterior walls of the upper floors are wrapped with windows. Instead of lining the outside walls and blocking sunlight as would be the case in a traditional office building, individual offices are arranged in blocks that run perpendicular to the exterior windows. This creates an open floor plan which – along with glass-walled offices, meeting rooms, and common spaces – brings more natural light into the interior of the building. The building is equipped with sensors that control lights based on a room’s occupancy and measure the amount of daylight in a room and adjust lighting levels accordingly.

These and other energy saving systems and design elements – such as high efficiency HVAC systems, exhaust heat recovery systems, and a roof that reflects heat – produce an estimated 18 percent reduction in utility costs. These features also qualified the building to participate in New York State Energy Research and Development Authority programs for energy conservation.

“The savings that we have been able to obtain through energy efficiency demonstrates that not only is sustainable design the right thing to do, but there is also a significant return on initial investment,” said Mary Ockenden, associate vice president for Space Planning at URMC “We spent about $900,000 or 1.5 percent of the project budget on upfront energy efficiency components with an average payback period of six years.”

Additional green features of the building include:

  • Water usage is reduced by 43 percent through the use of low flow water closets, showers, sinks, and urinals;
  • Exterior landscaping consists of native and adaptive plants which reduces the amount of water use by 50 percent;
  • A rain garden and “porous pavement” parking lot help capture and filter storm water and reduce runoff;
  • More than 700 tons of construction waste was diverted, a 56 percent reduction; 
  • 18 percent of the building is comprised of recycled construction materials and 23 percent of the material came from local sources;
  • 95 percent of the wood in the building came from Forest Stewardship Council certified forests;
  • All paints, adhesives, sealants, carpets, and plywood used in project use low-emitting/low volatile organic compounds resulting in improved indoor air quality.

The Saunders Research Building, which opened in April 2011, is home to the URMC Clinical and Translational Science Institute (CTSI), the Departments of Community and Preventive Medicine and Biostatistics and Computational Biology, independent research programs in cancer, neurological disorders, pediatrics, emergency medicine, cardiovascular disease, and other programs that support clinical research. It is one of the first new buildings in the nation dedicated to clinical and translational research and serves as the hub of a statewide network of clinical researchers. More than 500 faculty, staff, and students currently work in the building. The building’s construction was made possible with $50 million in capital support from the State of New York.

Many of the same design features that enabled the building to receive LEED certification are also central to the collaborative scientific environment that the building was intended to promote. Everything from glass-walled offices and meeting rooms to open staircases and even the height of partitions was designed to not only let in more daylight but also create a sense of openness and encourage the buildings occupants to interact with each other.  

This building was designed for a new model of collaborative science that will also be more sustainable,” said Thomas A. Pearson, M.D., M.P.H, Ph.D., director of CTSI. “Its design is an acknowledgement that the process of converting new medical knowledge into better health requires teamwork, sharing of personnel resources, cooperation across disciplines, and even the serendipitous encounter with a colleague that enables one to look at a problem from a different perspective.” 

Consulting architects and engineers related to LEED certification include Francis Cauffman, Bergmann Associates, BR+A Consulting Engineers, and Architerra.  LeChase Construction was the construction manager for the building. 

Students from the University of Rochester were also engaged in the project. The University’s Earth and Environmental Sciences Program under Karen Berger, Ph.D. developed a series of educational materials that were presented at the ribbon cutting and will be on display building’s lobby.  Students from the Simon Graduate School of Business developed an early business plan that evaluated the financial feasibility of the building.

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Mark Michaud
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