Indiana group hopes to make building one of world's most green
Photo courtesy of Palladium-Item
Wayne County, Indiana, is unofficially home to one of the greenest buildings on Earth.
Cope Environmental Center staff members are getting settled into their new Sustainable Education Center in Centerville, while final construction is completed, reports the Richmond (Ind.) Palladium-Item.
The new center is being built to meet the Living Building Challenge, a certification program so stringent in its requirements that only 11 buildings around the world have qualified so far for the highest level.
Cope staff and board members are excited the new building will expand Cope's capacity for environmental programs, such as hosting the county's Family Earth Day Celebration in April.
They believe it will act as a powerful teaching tool for sustainable living in east-central Indiana. Even while work is being completed, the new center has begun fulfilling its role to serve as a community gathering space, hosting the VanVleet Insurance customer appreciation holiday party and a memorial service for late Earlham College professor Carol Hunter.
Building the center has been an educational lesson for Cope staff and local construction crews.
The Living Building Challenge requires net-zero for energy, waste and water by every project. Starting in April, the building will be monitored for 12 consecutive months before potentially receiving certification.
The building has been angled 12½ degrees northwest to receive as much sun and natural ventilation as possible, and an overhang strategically will let in winter sun and keep out excessive summer sun.
Visitors could learn more about the thought process that went into choosing items used in construction.
For instance, all the lighting is light-emitting diode. One of the products used is Solatube Daylighting Systems that bring daylight into interior spaces where traditional skylights and windows can’t reach. The company says they're different than traditional skylights because they reduce glare and inconsistent light patterns, and screen infrared rays that can overheat interiors, as well as ultraviolet rays that can fade furniture and fabrics.
The new center has in-floor radiant heating that employees have just learned how to control. And different zones of the building can be programmed to different temperatures.
Some of the other items used inside come from nature itself. After reading in the Palladium-Item an article about Cope's upcoming project, an anonymous donor gave about $10,000 of wood from his property that was used throughout the building, such as window trim.
Some ash trees destroyed by the emerald ash borer on Cope's property were taken down, with the wood used for bathroom partitions and other needs.
Some barn doors also have been repurposed throughout the building.
Perhaps the most difficult part of the challenge was finding building materials that meet the required standards. The chemical composition of everything, except for miscellaneous hardware, such as nails, had to be approved.
Kaitlyn Blansett, Cope's community outreach coordinator, spent many hours vetting materials for the Living Building Challenge, contacting companies to learn what was in their products. Other groups have used vetting firms to meet the challenge.
"It should not be this hard to build nontoxic," Executive Director Alison Zajdel said.
Part of the Living Building Challenge is to use American-made construction materials that also don't emit harmful chemicals, such as volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that are emitted as gases in the long term from products such as paint and carpet.
For instance, varnish used on cabinets at Cope is plant-based. That provides a healthier work environment for construction crews as well as those who spend time in the building after construction.
In addition, Cope asked Ernst Concrete to change its concrete formula to remove formaldehyde for use inside and outside the new center.
Zajdel noted a lack of strong smells in the building that typically accompany construction while providing a tour earlier this week as crews continued working.
The building also must produce all of the energy it uses in a net-zero measurement to qualify for its designation.
However, guests shouldn't worry about the building shutting down on a cloudy day. It's tied to the grid, so everything still operates. Summer sun will produce more energy to balance rainy or snowy days.
Making the building produce its own energy does have a significant cost. Cope's board began raising money for the new building in 2012.
As Zajdel noted, the items that cost the most do pay the consumer back over the life of the project, such as geothermal, solar panels and radiant floor heating and cooling. It's less difficult and less expensive to purchase those items made in America as demand increases, and finding crews in the region to install many of those items has become easier in recent years as well.
Planning for the new building has been years in the works, with local architectural firm LWC helping with the project since 2008.
Cope already had outgrown its space. The center was founded in 1992 on the 30-acre farm of Jim and Helen Cope and has been using the former homestead to house its staff.
A small classroom building was added for programs but couldn't accommodate large community groups. It's more economical for schools to load as many kids as possible on a bus for field trips.
The new center is on the site of what used to be a parking lot for the Prairie Wood trailhead. It can accommodate 100 visitors at a time for programs, with its large room dividable for four smaller groups as needed for conferences and workshops. Cope staff have been interested in hosting a Third Grade Academy reading site in the summers, but it couldn't do so with its current space.
Several student groups have contributed to the renovation and already learned in the process.
Cope's small animals, such as Skunker the mouse, are getting new cages, and Kate Hogg's class at Richmond Friends School has been researching what the animals need in their environments to thrive.
Centerville High School Green Club students collected bottle caps to be recycled into a wall for the new center.
Richmond High School construction technology students made partition doors for the restroom stalls. Zajdel said she believes the students are the first, or nearly the first, high school group to work on construction for a Living Building Challenge site.
In addition to concerns about the source of materials used during construction and what ingredients are used, the Living Building Challenge requires thought about the end life of the building. For instance, metal was used for the roof so it could be recycled later.
After crews finish their last projects, Zajdel said a formal opening dedication is planned for April. A ribbon-cutting might take place earlier in the year.
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