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A 'Green' Building Grows on a UC Campus

Education: Recyclables shape environmentally friendly Bren school. From waterless urinals to skylights, the project could be a 'bellwether.'

April 19, 2002|JOHN JOHNSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SANTA BARBARA -- The University of California here is about to strike the next blow in the nation's "greener than thou" competition to build the most environmentally friendly building.

When the 85,000-square-foot Donald Bren Hall formally opens today, it will employ some of the most leading-edge construction and design techniques, from furnishings made of old Buicks to waterless urinals and restroom stalls made from plastic soda bottles.

"Pretty much everything in the building was done with the notion that it should be recyclable or made out of recycled material," said Dennis Aigner, dean of the School of Environmental Science and Management, which is in the new building.

One thing that makes the structure stand out from other so-called clean buildings is that it uses a wide range of technologies to minimize the building's impact on the surrounding environment.

In addition, 93% of the construction waste generated by the building contractor was recycled.

"We feel this is the next step in commercial building construction," said Mo Lovegreen, a spokeswoman for the university. She predicted that it will become a "bellwether for the University of California," setting standards against which future campus construction will be measured.

University officials expect it to win the platinum award from the U.S. Green Building Council, formed in 1993 to encourage environmentally friendly commercial construction. Lovegreen said only one other site in the United States has achieved that standard: a small office building in Annapolis, Md.

"Ours is three times as large," said Lovegreen, making it that much more difficult to achieve significant energy and construction efficiencies.

The $26-million building will be formally unveiled to the public today at a ceremony featuring state and local dignitaries, from UC Santa Barbara Chancellor Henry Yang and Rep. Lois Capps (D-Santa Barbara) to Winston Hickox, secretary of the state Environmental Protection Agency. "Kermit the Frog," the famed Jim Henson Muppet, will be an emcee.

Construction was racing toward completion earlier this month when Aigner and Lovegreen offered a tour of the building. They said the ambitious new approach to the project began even before the structure started rising from the dust.

The building sits on the site of an old parking lot. Rather than breaking up the pavement and hauling it off to the dump, workers ground it up and used the asphalt and concrete in the new building. Trees were preserved, and even the small plants bordering the parking lot were used as mulch, instead of being thrown away.

The building contains offices, classrooms and laboratories. Only the labs are air-conditioned, and building lights dim automatically as the sun brightens, which is supposed to save up to 40% in energy usage.

On warm days, teachers will simply open the windows, as in the old days, said Aigner. To counteract the danger of students dozing off, the building automatically pumps more oxygen into the room when carbon dioxide levels rise.

"But it won't take care of boring speakers," Aigner quipped..

The building goes easy on water consumption by installing urinals that don't use water. A layer of oil inside the tank absorbs the waste, expected to save 45,000 gallons of water a year.

Some of the most adventurous technologies were used in the construction materials.

In the restrooms, for instance, the countertops were decorated with embedded broken glass. The partitions were made of plastic bottles.

All materials used were designed to minimize gaseous releases that are the major cause of indoor pollution.

Carpeting on the second floor of the four-story building was carefully restored after being reclaimed from a Los Angeles Fortune 500 company. "We kept 14 tons of carpet out of the landfill," said Lovegreen.

Much of the flooring is linoleum, made of cork residue, linseed oil and flax seeds. Beneath the linoleum, the concrete base contains ash left over from coal-fired power plants.

According to Lovegreen, 90% of the structural steel in the building was shipped by an Oklahoma company that reclaimed junked cars.

Where wood is used, it must have been certified as coming from sustainable-harvest forests. The cabinet doors in the labs may look like particle board, but they are made of wheat waste. Old newspapers went into the ceiling tiles.

Public tours of the building will be conducted from 1 to 2 p.m. today.

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