$25 Million Visual Arts Center Goes for LEED Certification
(01/27/2010)

LARAMIE, Wyo. — Plans are in motion for a new LEED-certified, $25 million visual arts center at the University of Wyoming Laramie Campus, with construction slated to begin in July 2010.

The 83,750-square-foot facility, which will house studios for metalworking, ceramics, printmaking and other arts, was designed by Wyoming-based architectural firm Malone Belton Abel, PA, and will be built by GE Johnson Construction Co. of Colorado Springs, Colo. Under a policy enacted by the university in 2008, it must at least meet LEED Silver standards, but it is more likely to achieve Gold or Platinum certification, according to planners.

The new building will supplement UW’s overburdened visual arts facilities, which were constructed in 1972 and struggle to accommodate the rapidly growing enrollment of fine arts students. The State Building Commission authorized the university to issue up to $33 million in revenue bonds to finance construction, with a coupon payment backed by student housing fees.

Merl Haworth, associate director of facilities planning at UW, says that in addition to LEED certification, the new facility may also achieve a zero net energy consumption goal. However, the nature of the building’s uses poses challenges.

“It’s a visual arts building, but a lot of the rooms function as labs and we can’t have students breathing recycled air,” Haworth says.

Despite stringent ventilation requirements resulting from student activities, including welding and hazardous chemical applications, the facility still has several options for reducing its nonrenewable energy consumption profile.

“We’re looking at alternative energy sources — an evacuated tube system for heating, heat collectors, solar power,” Haworth says. “Wyoming is great in that it offers a lot of options.”

Additional options include passive solar heating or purchasing energy from off-site renewable sources.

Matt Tompkins of Malone Belton Abel has considered another, potentially controversial renewable energy source.

“What we’ve come up with is to try to use a wind turbine, though the politics alone are difficult to overcome,” Tompkins says.

Wyoming, which produces more than 986 megawatts of wind energy annually, is no stranger to wind turbines. The problem in this case, however, seems to be location.

“There are two issues with it,” Haworth says. “One is the front-end cost of putting one up and the other is the political issue of putting it up within city limits. We do have other property that is outside of the city limits, but that’s on the edge of our opportunity for net zero.”

If net zero appears a distant goal, LEED certification appears assured. Malone Belton Abel, which has designed more than 20 facilities for UW, has a proven history of dedication to green design. Its newest UW facility, the $20 million Center for Natural History and Conservation, will be submitted for LEED Gold certification when construction ends in summer 2010.

Project Data

Facility: University Visual Arts Center

Location: University of Wyoming

Laramie Campus

Construction Budget: $25 million

Area: 83,750 square feet

Construction Start Date: July 2010

Architect: Malone Belton Abel, PA

Construction Company: GE Johnson

Malone Belton Abel

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