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'Green' building piques interest
Ventura County Star
by Ryan Alessi, Scripps Howard News Service
May 6, 2001

SANTA BARBARA - Months after approving plans for a new environmental science building, the University of California, Santa Barbara, had second thoughts.

The school's advisory board liked the design, but thought the blueprints for the new school should be a bit greener. After all, said Dennis Aigner, acting dean of the Bren School of Environmental Science & Management, it would house a school that stresses efficiency and conservation.

"Not much of the original building design took that into account," he said. "Now we've got a building much more in line with the program."

Using the new greenprints, construction crews broke ground in February 2000. When the building opens in Spring 2002, it will use 30 percent to 40 percent less electricity than the old version.

And with the skeleton mostly up, the university already is using the future classroom building as a learning tool.

Tours by state officials, builders and the occasional reporter have become commonplace. A delegation from Southern California Edison, one of the state's cash-strapped electric utilities, came through last month to learn about energy-saving techniques. And officials from the University of California-Merced are watching closely as they plan to make their entire campus green. The Merced campus is scheduled to open in 2005.

None of the technologies going into the Bren School is revolutionary; the interest stems from how they're being put together.

"It's just better design," Aigner said. "And now with the price of electricity and natural gas climbing, it makes even more sense to look at efficiency and conservation."

For instance, the building is positioned to catch nature's air conditioning off the ocean. The offices and lecture halls overlooking the Pacific Coast will have wide windows t sweep in the cool breeze. Only the laboratories in the rear will need to be cooled electrically.

The Bren School is buying sensors to adjust the indoor lighting according to how many people are in the rooms and how much sun shines through. And, to prevent students from dozing off, classrooms will come equipped with air sensors to circulate new air in and carbon dioxide out.

The amazing thing, said Mo Lovegreen, the school's assistant dean, is that many of the energy-saving features were mere tweaks to the original plans. The price tag of the new Bren School is expected to be between $23 million and $24 million -- only a smidgen more than the $22 million the state footed for the original project.

Aigner is raising money to cover the difference, which mostly comes from the light and air sensors, as well as solar panels and a fuel cell. Lovegreen is shopping for a cell, which can cost anywhere from $700,000 to $3.5 million. But the hope is that a clean generating fuel cell could churn out nearly half the school's electricity.

"If we spend an extra $1 million in construction, we're basically guaranteeing that we'll make that back in three to five years of energy conservation," Aigner said.

These features also have snared a lot of attention.

Perrin Pellegrin graduated from the school in June but was so intrigued by the new building that she returned in the fall as the school's full-time special-projects coordinator. It's her job to keep track of all the building's environmental attributes, such as recycled materials.

The steel support beams of the building's shell used to be old Fords and Chevys. Countertops, carpets and upholstery will come from recycled material. And even the foundation's concrete is mixed with fly ash from coal power plants, which makes the structure stronger and cheaper, Pellegrin points out.

To reduce waste, the furniture will arrive in blankets, not boxes. And crews recycle whatever cardboard, plastic or metals are left over at the end of the day.

"It's all about the little things," she said

Those little things will make the Bren School one of the most environmentally conscious buildings in the nation, according to the U.S. Green Building Council in Washington. More than a dozen structures, scattered from the Sun Belt to the Rust Belt, meet the council's minimum environmental criteria.

"Certainly there's a long way to go," said Peter Templeton, the council's program coordinator. "It has become pervasive in certain markets and certain regions. But I wouldn't call it mainstream yet."

That's why, for Pellegrin, the Bren School signifies a start of something big. She's seen how curious people are. She's given dozens of tours through sites and answered hundred of questions from local builders who want to know what they can incorporate into their next house or building.

"I love this job," she said, looking up at the half-finished school. "And it's amazing to think what we could have started here."