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At Georgia Tech one of the ways to maintain a competitive edge is by embracing the culture of sustainability, which is all but demanded by the students. "They're all here to do a better job of helping life in general," says Francis Gillis, senior director of Housing Facilities Management with the Georgia Tech Department of Housing. "A good paycheck counts, but a lot of the students have visions of helping the Earth to survive better."
Which means that when the university acquired the former Olympic Village in 2007, the department saw an opportunity for a significant sustainability initiative. Just how significant was unknown until after the plaque was hung for achieving LEED for Existing Buildings O&M Gold in 2011, when they saw that the project size of 2,000 beds was the largest university residence hall in the USGBC database at the time.
The university has a LEED Gold standard for new construction and major renovation, but the new North Avenue Apartments didn't fall into those categories. Pursuing LEED Gold anyway was due to the convergence of three factors: students were interested, the acquisition process provided a complete facility assessment — a necessary baseline for a sustainability project — and the acquisition was financed in such a way to provide approximately $20 million to address certain facility issues and replace fixtures, funds which normally would not have been available.
It had only been 12 years since the 800,000-square-foot Olympic Village was constructed, but it already had several systems coming due for replacement due to wear and tear, Gillis says. In addition, systems at the time of construction were not selected for their efficiency, so big gains could be made by actions such as installing variable speed drives, water saving devices, and tightening the envelope.
For example, 2,000 beds equals about 1,000 toilets. "Even though the toilets were functioning, the decision was made to remove them and replace them with low-flow, which significantly reduced our water consumption and sewer," Gillis says. "Those kinds of analyses were done on all the systems we have." Combined efforts have reduced water usage at the North Avenue Apartments by 20 percent.
Pulling off the project required the entire facilities team to buy into concepts and alterations of daily operations and maintenance, Gillis says. "This is about a team effort," he says. "It could not have happened with a manager just saying we're going to do this, if the team was not able to come on board and support it. There are so many areas where they can not comply and you wouldn't know about it until years later down the road."
The Georgia Tech Department of Housing created a series of short videos and other information tools on their website to educate the ever-changing student population on their green initiatives. "When they come in as a new student or returning student they can pop on a 2- to 3-minute video that shows them why we do things and how we do things on the sustainability side of the house," says Gillis.
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