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UC Merced Earns 11th LEED Certification, 2nd Platinum
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The 101,900-square-foot, $47 million Social Sciences and Management (SSM) building at the University of California, Merced, has earned a Platinum LEED certification. It’s the university’s 11th LEED-certified building — that includes one Silver certification, eight Gold certifications, and now two Platinum certifications, with five Platinum certifications pending.
UC Merced opened Sept. 5, 2005, as the 10th campus in the University of California system and the first American research university of the 21st century. Situated near Yosemite National Park, the campus significantly expands access to the UC system for students throughout the state, with a special mission to increase college-going rates among students in the San Joaquin Valley. It also serves as a major base of advanced research, a model of sustainable design and construction, and a stimulus to economic growth and diversification throughout the region.
Every building project on UC Merced’s campus has already or is expected to attain LEED certification. The campus is being built green from the ground up, with a deep commitment to sustainability in all forms, from landscaping and water to recycling and energy efficiency. The campus has made a Triple Net Zero Commitment to consume zero net energy, produce zero landfill waste and produce zero net greenhouse gas emissions. “It has been an excellent collaborative effort of the entire design and construction team in partnership with facilities management to achieve this recognition,” says campus architect Tom Lollini. “(The SSM building) is our second Platinum certification, and lines up subsequent projects to achieve similar results through the USGBC Multi-Building Pilot program, in which UC Merced has served as a national leader.”
The SSM building, which opened in 2011, allowed the School of Social Sciences, Management, and Arts to nearly double its size. The building’s design and material palette responds to the Central Valley’s strong agrarian and industrial forms; the concrete exterior, deep overhangs, arcades, and sunscreens continue the precedent set by neighboring structures. Pre-formed metal siding complements both the adjacent Central Plant and the local architectural vernacular.
Faculty office and research spaces are organized around a double-height atrium with views of the LeGrand Canal and the nearby Sierra Nevada.
Classrooms are located on the ground floor; including art studios oriented to take advantage of the open space around the canal as well as the adjacent multi-purpose pathway. A multi-angled interactive space in the atrium known as “The Rock” forms the social heart of the building and provides a space for meetings, events, and intellectual exchange.
On water use, the building saves more than 30 percent over a traditional building by incorporating automated low-flow faucets, low-flow showerheads and toilets and waterless urinals. More than 90 percent of construction waste on the project was recycled — meaning it was diverted from landfills. The building also earned 16 of 17 possible points (in LEED v2.2) for Energy and Atmosphere and is saving more than 40 percent in energy costs compared to similar buildings built in California. Thirty percent of the building materials have recycled content in them. For example, the building’s insulation is a product that features 80 percent post-consumer recycled denim fibers from blue jeans. The ceiling tile products contain 85 percent recycled content, mostly from recycled ceiling tiles. The carpet tiles contain 35 percent recycled carpet.
UC Merced’s sustainability efforts aren’t limited to construction. They include:
• Involving students in sustainability projects, from water-saving competitions in the residence halls to their daily participation in recycling and composting programs;
• Diverting as much from area landfills as possible by recycling. For example, since the campus began construction, it has generated 9,444 tons of construction waste, and diverted 7,760 tons — 82 percent.
• Production of more than 2 million kilowatt hours of electricity by the campus’ solar farm – equaling 14 percent of campus usage;
• Reduction of food packaging waste through the reusable containers;
• Reuse of cleansing chemicals in science labs
These efforts are good for the environment and the campus budget.
“From a life-cycle perspective, each of these projects are achieving or exceeding the maximum energy and water savings credits available within the LEED certification program, saving the campus significant operating costs over the expected life of these buildings,” Lollini says. “Think $2 million per year in energy savings for the current building inventory times the 50- to 100-year life of these buildings, and it adds up to a very sound business decision.”
Mark Maxwell is assistant director of construction and sustainability for the University of California, Merced.