January 9, 2012 | last updated June 4, 2012 11:32 am

Bioscience LEED commitment addresses energy dilemma of updating buildings

The University of Connecticut Health Center will be renovated to at least LEED silver levels, providing a new sense of sustainability and efficiency to the building erected in the 1970s.

The University of Connecticut's vow to achieve higher environmentally friendly standards with the new and renovated buildings of Bioscience Connecticut addresses a real challenge within the green construction trend — fixing old buildings to Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design, or LEED, levels.

While constructing new buildings to meet basic, silver, gold and platinum LEED helps the environment, the real sieve of electricity and heat are older facilities designed and built decades or even centuries ago.

"We are seeing some existing buildings that are pretty notorious for inefficiencies that are going for certification," said Ashley Katz, spokeswoman for the U.S. Green Building Council, developer of the LEED system. Katz cited such facilities as the Empire State Building in New York City, built in 1931 and certified LEED gold in September.

UConn has a policy to construct all new buildings and renovations over $5 million to at least reach LEED silver, the second of the four LEED levels. The university adopted this stance to create more operational efficiencies; reduce its mechanical, electric and heating costs; and be more environmentally conscious, said Tom Trutter, UConn associate vice president for facilities and maintenance.

So, with $839 million in state government money to renovate and expand the UConn Health Center for better care and more research as part of Gov. Dannel Malloy's Bioscience Connecticut initiative, the university will design to a minimum of LEED silver, possibly moving up to gold.

Bioscience Connecticut calls for building a new hospital and ambulatory care facility, and then renovating labs, research space and educational facilities. The oldest parts of the Health Center were built in the 1970s.

"Renovating the existing parts is going to be a much bigger challenge," Trutter said. "Things have changed dramatically since they were built."

Connecticut has 22 buildings that were renovated to meet LEED standards: 12 meet the basic levels while nine others met the higher silver standard. Only one was renovated to LEED gold, the Frito Lay manufacturing facility in Killingly, the only manufacturing facility in the country renovated to the gold standard.

The Phoenix Cos. had its facilities at One America Row in Hartford — better known as the Boat Building — certified as LEED silver in January 2010, and it is the only commercial building in Hartford renovated for LEED.

The insurance and wealth management corporation conducted its renovations in 2004 and 2006 to make the facility suitable for 21st century business, said Alice Ericson, Phoenix spokeswoman. The renovation included more efficient heating, cooling and water systems, as well as better lighting. In 2008, the company wanted validation of the Boat Building's green qualities. It achieved Energy Star rating that year and finished its LEED certification two years later.

"One American Row has always been a leading edge building — from its beginning as the world's first two-sided office building, to being one of the few modern structures listed on the National Register of Historic Places," Ericson said. "Attaining LEED certification was one more achievement."

On the national level, the square footage of existing buildings with LEED certification surpassed newly constructed LEED buildings for the first time in December. There are now 15 million more square feet of space renovated to LEED than space originally built to LEED standards, according to the U.S. Green Building Council.

For the first 10 years after LEED was developed in 1998, the number of certifications was dominated by new construction. That changed in 2008 when USGBC developed a LEED program specifically for renovating existing buildings, hoping to convert much of the nation's 60 billion square feet of existing commercial buildings.

The program offers certain incentives, such as the return of registration fees, in addition to the benefits coming from more efficient operations.

With the Empire State Buildings' LEED gold, the property expects to save $4.4 million annually in energy costs, which will recoup the renovation costs in three years, according to USGBC.

By 2015, the value of green construction on major commercial renovations will triple to $18 billion, according to McGraw Hill Construction's Green Outlook 2011 report.

"The stock of older buildings is just enormous," USGBC's Katz said. "Projects are really taking a look at their footprint to see how they can change."

At UConn, the school's facilities staff is still hammering out the details with architects Steffian Bradley Architects of Boston and HKS, Inc. of Dallas on how to achieve LEED standards for the Bioscience Connecticut projects.

Initially to earn the necessary LEED points, the design plan calls for utilizing existing public buses, bicycle racks and a carpooling program; native landscaping and storm water management; efficient heating, cooling and plumbing systems to reduce energy and water usage by 20 percent; eco-friendly materials for construction and interior design; low-emitting materials and proper filtration to improve indoor air quality; and recycling programs and green cleaning once construction is complete.

"In the end, this LEED facility will help reduce its environmental impact and operating costs while still providing a healthy place for the patients, visitors, and staff of the UConn Health Center," said Ron Vestri, Steffian Bradley's principal on the project.

The incremental cost of designing Bioscience Connecticut to LEED standards should be less than 5 percent, said UConn's Trutter. The incremental cost was much higher — close to 8 percent — until the design and construction industry got a handle on sustainable building.

"The architect and engineer and construction industries have really come up to the curve with green construction," Trutter said. "The industry is well-versed in this now."

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