Growing Green

by Katie Sloan

Growing Green

With impetus and drive from universities, green student housing projects are taking flight across the country.

While colleges and universities are challenged with building new student housing facilities, many now also mandate that any new state facilities be built to LEED certification standards. That means that on-campus student housing facilities are among those leading the way with green features and sustainability practices.

“On-campus, it is both the administration and students who are asking for more green features,” says Henry Cantwell, senior project manager with Niles Bolton Associates. “Administrators are looking for cost reductions that sustainability brings to the building in terms of operation and maintenance. Students are looking for green features because of their social and environmental awareness.”

Time has made it easier for properties to go for LEED certification. As where five years ago, the additional costs to go for LEED gold certification would have added 10 to 15 percent to the construction costs of a new project, that is down to a one to three percent premium, says James Rayburg, vice president of Cannon Design.

Green Features


The two largest areas that universities ask designers to provide sustainability on are energy and water consumption. Niles Bolton & Associates has resolved these issues for clients by specifying EnergyStar rated lighting fixtures and the most efficient HVAC equipment available, as well as Watersense fixtures that target a 20 to 30 percent water usage savings, says Cantwell.

Niles Bolton Associates designed one of the largest LEED certified student housing projects in the country — Poly Canyon Village at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo — that has 2,670 beds. The project not only achieved LEED Gold certification, but outperforms ASHRAE’s base building standard (ASHRAE 90.1) by 50 percent.

Niles Bolton designed Poly Canyon Village at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, one of the largest LEED certified student housing projects in the country.

At the SUNY-Buffalo, where a LEED gold mandate for new buildings is in place, Cannon Design partnered on the design of Greiner Hall to create more universal design features rather than create special features to accommodate ADA requirements. These are features like wider doorways, elevated heights for electrical outlets for those who are physically impaired; and even contrasting color choices for solid surfaces like floors and desks so those with visual impairments can recognize areas easier.

“While those features don’t get us any LEED points, they make the building infinitely more adaptable in the future and usable,” says Rayburg. “Subsequently, we feel it will need very little retrofitting of any kind in the future.”

Skyline Innovations is introducing solar energy systems to university campus buildings, including student housing. When the company installed a solar water heating system at George Washington University in Virginia, the system was the sixth largest of its kind in the United States. The company has also completed solar water heating projects at American University in Washington, D.C. Skyline’s solution has an added benefit for universities and private developers: it delivers guaranteed energy savings through green energy and finances, installs and maintains the system so that there is no financial or physical risk.

At Paul Smith’s College in New York’s Adirondack Mountains, BBL Campus Facilities built a student housing project to LEED certification for the university, which opened in August 2011. Since one of the main studies at Paul Smith’s College is forestry, the students are in tune with the environment, necessitating a sustainable student housing project. Because of the long winter and mild summer climate in the area, the project uses geothermal energy to heat the facility. With this project, as with most student housing projects, the price the student can pay for rent is the defining factor for many green and sustainable attributes carried out from design to implementation.

“Price point is obviously a challenge,” says Jon deForest, executive vice president and principal of BBL Campus Facilities. “Student housing has to fit a model that people can afford. You can’t just command whatever price point you want. It has to make economic sense.”

Certain sustainability measures can be built into every projects, deForest adds. “The idea of recycled content material just falls right into place; it doesn’t matter what type of building it is,” he says.

Kayne Anderson’s West 27th Place near the University of Southern California in Los Angeles is one of the few privately-owned student housing projects to be certified LEED Platinum.

While few student housing facilities have gone for LEED Platinum status, West 27th Place near the University of Southern California in Los Angeles (pictured at left), recently received the award. Located in The Row near USC at 27th and Figueroa, West 27th Place’s green initiatives include a salt-water pool, drought-resistant landscaping, motion-censored lighting, Energy Star compliant appliances and a highly efficient irrigation system for water conservation. Within each apartment unit, amenities such as low-flow water fixtures and Energy Star laundry and cooking facilities all contribute to the building’s ability to exceed California’s Title 24 energy guidelines.

Construction waste is reduced by up to 95 percent due to offsite wall panel fabrication and recycled content materials. West 27th Place opened for the 2011-2012 academic year. The seven-story luxury apartment consists of 161 units and 392 beds. It is the only privately financed LEED certified student housing development in greater Los Angeles.

Going Net Zero

While some projects are going the LEED route, a few student housing projects in California have opted to go Net Zero — meaning their energy consumption is equal to or less than the energy the projects produce.

UC Davis West Village, located on the campus of the University of California, Davis (UC Davis) in Davis, California, is the largest planned net-zero energy development in the United States. It is an innovative public-private partnership between UC Davis and West Village Community Partnership, LLC, a joint venture between lead developer San Francisco-based Carmel Partners, a national, full-service real estate company, and Denver-based Urban Villages, a real estate and investment company committed to sustainable development.

Breaking ground more than two years ago in August 2009, UC Davis West Village combines student and employee housing, retail space and a community college center. Totaling 200 acres, the development is located on campus land. The Ramble Apartments serve the UC Davis students in one-, two-, three- and four-bedroom units and opened for the 2011-2012 academic year.

The primary vision in developing UC Davis West Village was to attain net zero energy consumption with four specific goals in mind: net zero energy from the grid; utilization of the latest in energy conservation measures to reduce energy demand; installation of renewable energy resources to provide electricity for the community; and installation of “smart grid” technology for demand-side and supply-side management.

As a net zero project, West Village applies the latest in energy efficient technologies, including energy management systems that allow residents to control individual power outlets; and a four-megawatt solar photovoltaic system, produced by San Jose, California-based SunPower Corporation provide electricity to the community and help residents experience firsthand harnessing the power of the sun with their individual conscientious use of electricity.

Architectural elements such as roof overhangs and extensive use of sunshades over windows are designed to respond to the specific solar exposure of each community building. Every apartment has energy-conserving components including solar reflective roof materials, radiant barrier roof sheathing, high-efficiency light fixtures, thick exterior walls for added insulation and high-efficiency air conditioning system and appliances.

Santa Barbara, California-based Mesa Lane Partners is developing The LOOP, a 140-bed, off-campus project that will be have net zero energy impact.

Just off the campus of the University of California at Santa Barbara, another net zero student housing development is The LOOP, a 48-unit, 44,994-square-foot student housing development with 140 beds in downtown Isla Vista. Santa Barbara, California-based Mesa Lane Partners, a full-service real estate investment and development firm, is developing the project. The five-story student housing development is the first private sector net zero student housing project in Santa Barbara County, California.

Mesa Lane Partners won a competitive award from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to participate in the DOE’s Commercial Building Partnership program funded by American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). Building owners and operators are paired with DOE representatives, national laboratory staff and private sector technical experts to implement high performance strategies and technologies in commercial buildings.

“This project is a game-changer for UCSB and the building industry as a whole,” says Neil Dipaola, chief executive officer and managing partner of Mesa Lane Partners, a graduate of UCSB and former Isla Vista resident. “The introduction of cutting-edge green technology is designed to be respectful of the local and global environment.”

A former contaminated brownfield, The LOOP is set to open in June 2012 and achieve LEED Platinum certification, the highest standard recognized by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). Amenities will include a green roof, sky deck and automated robotic puzzle parking. It will also offer energy efficient features such as passive heating and cooling systems, operable windows and skylights emphasizing daylight and natural ventilation, a photovoltaic panel array, a solar water heating system and drought resistant landscaping.

Growing Trend

While many projects being built today are done so with sustainable materials and features, few off-campus projects are going for LEED certified status, mainly because of the costs associated with achieving points. The exception to this rule is whether the municipality requires LEED certification or not. Thus, states like California are leading the way in private LEED certified student housing projects. Another reason for this is that privately developed projects usually do not receive the subsidies that public building projects do to pay for items that will allow the project to achieve LEED certification.

“Our practice focuses on privately developed projects,” says Andrew Roark, project manager for Forum Architecture. “We rarely see such deals actually certified green, since that investment may never be recovered. Outside of public or otherwise subsidized projects, the truth is that the green revolution is moving at a much slower pace and only to the extent that the market can bear.”

Roark points out that many new off-campus student housing facilities do incorporate a number of green functions and practices, whether or not they actually go for LEED status. Forum Architecture has designed The Forum at Georgia Southern for Boca Raton, Florida-based Parkland Development, currently under construction in Statesboro, Georgia. In construction, the project is using local materials and trades, as well as energy efficient windows. Since it is a long-term owner, Parkland has made the choice to provide quality market rate apartments that are desirable to students, as well as efficient, well-built places to live.

Whether going for net zero or just adding sustainable features, architects and designers say the earlier the development team is on board with and has a clear path to the same goal of sustainability, the better. “Historically, student housing is funded by the rents paid by students and the time requirements must fit within an academic calendar,” says Cantwell. “Both of these put pressures on the design team and the owners’ team to work together to program and plan sustainability into the project.”

For LEED certification, this is even more paramount, says Brett Stevens, business development executive with BBL Campus Facilities, who gets involved early on in client projects.

“Everyone should be on board,” he says. “When you go through the LEED certification process, there’s a lot of things you have to do very early on, as well as through the whole process and afterward. It’s a system that requires a lot of involvement not only from [the development] team but even before the team is in place.”

The Future of Furniture

How much will it cost, and how long is it going to last?

Those are the two questions Brian Hunt answers most often.

Hunt is the president of Charlotte, N.C.-based FOB, a full-service student housing furniture contractor. With the spotlight on LEED points and Net Zero energy consumption, developers and owners are even looking at desks and nightstands as a path to green student housing. 

Furniture for students needs to be affordable and durable. For the most part, those two requirements overrule also being good for the environment.

But that might not always be the case. 
Hunt says green furniture is slowly becoming a topic of discussion. It can include building with materials like bamboo or reclaimed wood. Or it could mean eliminating certain adhesives from the manufacturing process in favor of natural joinery methods that use no glue or chemicals. It can also refer to more conscientious shipping and handling practices.

Here, Hunt discusses some of the trends as well as what we might be seeing in the near future of “greener” furniture.

SHB: How often are environmental concerns a priority for your clients?

Hint: It’s a case-by-case basis. You’ll see developers that are trying a green project in a certain region of the country or in a certain city that is more open to it than in other places. Some developers are very interested in what the building’s local impact is going to be on the environment. Sometimes that drives the customer’s desire to become green. They may be looking for unique ways to show the community they’re serious about it. Furniture can be one way to do that.

SHB: What are some examples of green-furniture materials?

Hunt: bamboo is the one material we’ve focused on because it is readily available; there’s kind of an unlimited supply of it; and it’s easy to work with and achieve that green qualification. There are other, lesser-known types of materials. Reclaimed wood, which is wood that was not harvested for the intended purpose of furniture, is another popular choice, but it’s very hard to do in a high-volume application.

SHB: What types of furnishings are you using bamboo for?

Hunt: It can be used to create virtually anything that’s wooden. It’s oftentimes associated with indoor-outdoor furniture, but we’re using some processes where we split the bamboo reed and flatten it to create more of a surface area. Then, it’s attached to a substrate that provides the rigidity.

SHB: What’s the price difference between something that’s a popular manmade, metal-framed piece that’s affordable and easy to mass produce versus something made with sustainable materials?

Hunt: If you took a nightstand and you made it out of the normal current method of utilizing MDF (medium-density fiberboard) and either a laminate or wood-tip veneer, and you produced that exact same piece out of a sustainable and renewable material, it would be approximately 20 percent more for the green version.

SHB: Does it take longer to fill an order like that?

Hunt: There is more processing that has to be done in the raw material in order to get it suitable for furniture production. If you’re taking a round item and making flat pieces and tops out of it, then additional steps and work to prepare the material are required. That translates into longer lead times.

SHB: In what other ways can the process be greener?

Hunt: We look at being green in how we package the furniture. Styrofoam and things of that nature end up going straight to the landfill. We’ve converted almost 99 percent of our packaging material into recyclable cardboard, including all our shipping cartons and corner protectors.

SHB: About how much Styrofoam would you use in a single application?

Hunt: It’s significant. In about a 500-bed installation, we would have had about 50 large trash Dumpsters worth of nothing but Styrofoam. Instead, we break down the recyclable cardboard and send it to the local recycling facility in whatever city we’re installing in.

SHB: Will we start to see more interest in and more products in green furnishings?

Hunt: Right now the actual raw material needed is the big question in a large application. It’s possible that the reforestation or planting of renewable material for the intended purpose of being used in furniture could drive that cost down.
Manufacturers are working on perfecting the best way to build furniture out of these types of materials, primarily wood items. There are other materials being evaluated, but a lot of furniture companies are holding that confidential because green furniture is not yet widely used and there is still some hesitation to stake your company’s reputation on it.
The question at the end of the day is this: Is the community willing to pay the higher rent that has to be passed on because of the higher construction costs? It’s such a new trend that there’s still a lot of unknowns out there.

— Randall Shearin and Lynn Peisner

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