Whitewater Innovation Center Achieves LEED Gold Certification

In the grand scheme of sustainable projects, the Whitewater-University Technology Park Innovation Center in Whitewater, Wisconsin, is relatively small with a less than $5 million construction budget. However, as any contractor knows, a project doesn't have to be large scale to be worthy of a LEED Gold Certification.

“The owner of this project did a great job at preparing this to be a sustainable site, rather than a site that was going for a LEED certification,” says Neal Day, Project Manager with J.P. Cullen & Sons, Inc., the construction firm of record for the project.

“Sustainability is about the environment,” he notes. “Many companies wouldn’t put forth a high level of sustainability effort for a project of this size. However, by utilizing the latest building technologies like Building Information Modeling (BIM) and incorporating sustainable building methods, the Innovation Center earned a Build Wisconsin Award as well as LEED Gold certification.”

Back to Basics

The Innovation Center is a new two-story, 35,000-square-foot, multi-tenant office building. It was the first building constructed for the new Whitewater-University Technology Park and serves technology-based-start-up companies.

As the gateway facility for the Technology Park, the Innovation Center set the architectural standards and aesthetic tones. By incorporating sustainable design practices and energy-saving technologies such as geothermal heating and cooling systems and photovoltaic generation of electricity, the Innovation Center was partially funded by the U.S. Department of Commerce Economic Development Administration.

The following sustainable elements were creatively incorporated into the design and construction of the Innovation Center:

Geothermal heating and cooling system. The most impactful sustainable practices for the Innovation Center were the geothermal heating and cooling systems and photovoltaic (PV) generation of electricity. The improved thermal envelope of the geothermal system, occupancy sensors and ground source heat pumps allowed the facility to achieve a 38% energy cost savings.

The system utilizes 60 wells sunk 275 feet deep, where water is recirculated, to provide thermal exchange. With 40% to 70% less energy used than conventional systems, this allows for the center to have higher efficiencies.

The geothermal heat pump can move up to four units of heat for every unit of electricity needed to power the system, resulting in a practical equivalence of more than 400% efficiency.

Photovoltaic system. A 20-kW photovoltaic system provides up to 7.5% of the building’s annual electrical demand. Photovoltaic solar panels are mounted on top of the Innovation Center. The 104 panels are able to generate 30 kW of electricity to offset the electrical requirements of the facility.

Water management plan. A stormwater management plan was implemented to capture and treat run-off from 90% of the average annual rainfall.

Water management was a consideration on the project early on, says Day. During geothermal drilling, water had to be pumped into a silt-containing structure, filtering overflow to preserve local marshy areas.

“We took a proactive approach to the environment all the way through this project, starting with site prep,” explains Day. “We also conducted weekly reviews with the local DNR representative.”

Managing Materials

Additional sustainable practices were also implemented throughout the facility. For example, the tiles and carpet were made from recycled materials, and low volatile organic compounds (VOCs) were used to enable improved air quality.

The main lobby lights remain off when there is sufficient daylight.

This project also utilized Building Information Modeling (BIM), which included working with the project team (architect; engineer; mechanical, electrical, plumbing and fire protection contractors) on a weekly basis to review clash detection points. This enabled the team to solve problems prior to system installation.

Utilizing BIM enabled the contractor to generate interactive Operational & Maintenance (O&M) Manuals, says Day. The interactive manuals are capable of walking the owner through the actual building electronically and can automatically generate maintenance data for the selected feature of the facility.

“In the last five years I have noticed a change in how material suppliers handle the LEED aspect of a project,” concludes Day. “Most material suppliers now send LEED documentation whether it’s a LEED project or not. Subcontractors are also becoming more proactive about LEED documentation. All in all, it’s helping.”

To read the full story, click here to download the Fall 2013 issue of Sustainable Construction.