MERCED, Calif. -- The University of California, Merced, continues to strike "gold" with the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) and has made several recent steps towards achieving a sustainable future.
Two more campus buildings - Sierra Terraces and the Joseph Edward Gallo Recreation & Wellness Center -- have earned LEED Gold certification by the USGBC for excellence in environmentally responsible design, construction and operation, adding strong support for the university's goal of becoming the greenest campus in the country.
The new certifications bring the number of LEED Gold buildings on campus to six, with a seventh earning LEED Silver. No other university in the United States has earned LEED Silver or better for every building on campus. Four more buildings under construction or recently completed are expected to achieve LEED Gold.
"For a university to earn Gold certification for six of its buildings is unprecedented," said Thomas Lollini, FAIA, associate vice chancellor for physical planning, design and construction. "As the first new American research university of the 21st century, UC Merced is leading the way to a sustainable future. Our goal is not just to become the greenest campus in the country but also to share what we've learned for the benefit of society as a whole."
Sierra Terraces are two, two-story residence halls. Opened in 2007, the facility was the campus' second green building housing project. It includes 203 two-person suites, lounge rooms, study rooms, a residence advisors unit and data centers.
The Joseph Edward Gallo Recreation & Wellness Center is a two-story, 36,610-gross-square-foot building located in the core section of campus. It houses recreation and exercise facilities on the first floor and the H. Rajender Reddy Student Health Center on the second floor.
Previously, the university's Science & Engineering Building, the Leo & Dottie Kolligian Library, Central Plant complex and the Classroom & Office Building were awarded LEED Gold certification. The Valley Terraces and Yablokoff-Wallace Dining Commons complex earned LEED Silver.
The USGBC is an independent, nonprofit organization that promotes sustainable building practices under its Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED™) program. It rates buildings for environmental performance on a five-tier scale, awarding points for meeting or exceeding standards on 69 different measures, including energy usage, air quality, natural lighting, waste diversion and recycling.
On the USGBC scale, Gold is the second-highest level of
achievement -- one level above Silver. UC Merced was the first UC
campus to set a minimum target of LEED Silver for all new
construction and that benchmark was included in the university's
2002 Long Range Development Plan (LRDP), a comprehensive land use
plan that all University of California campuses prepare to guide
their physical growth.
"We were the first university that committed to a minimum LEED Silver for all buildings and we exceeded that ambitious goal," Lollini said. "As a result of this success, we recently reset our goal in our 2009 LRDP to minimum LEED Gold and hope to reach Platinum, whenever feasible.
"The LRDP goes even further, establishing what we call a 'triple zero commitment' to achieve zero net energy usage, contribute zero waste to landfills, and produce zero net greenhouse gas emissions by 2020. We are the first university in the country to set our sights for sustainability so high."
The university plans to accomplish its triple zero commitment by building energy-efficient buildings, producing renewable energy on campus, recycling, reducing excess consumption and by preventing or offsetting excess greenhouse gas emissions. The campus is exploring the potential of applying technology and design features to achieve water neutrality, an emerging concept of reducing water use so that no new water resources are needed.
Since its inception, UC Merced has been a leader in sustainable planning and environmental design. As the campus grows, new development will be designed, planned and sited to demonstrate innovation and minimize impacts on the environment.
In the best spirit of public education, campus officials are sharing the university's sustainable practices with others throughout the San Joaquin Valley and beyond, showcasing strategies that make wise use of water, energy, sunlight and other resources.
"We are proud to develop a model for others to follow," Lollini said. "UC Merced has demonstrated what is possible."
The university's participation in the LEED program is one of several examples that demonstrate the campus' commitment to environmental stewardship.
CLIMATE ACTION PLAN
The university recently unveiled its Climate Action Plan, a blueprint outlining the university's plan to achieve climate sustainability. "This plan puts the high-level climate-related commitments in the Long Range Development Plan into action," said John Elliott, a senior engineer for the campus' facilities management division. "It establishes our basic approach to meeting the challenges of climate change and starts a dialog with the campus community to significantly limit our impact on the environment."
The Climate Action Plan's primary goals are to use as little energy as possible, generate power renewably to achieve a zero net energy campus, and offset greenhouse gas emissions to achieve climate neutrality - all by 2020. A zero net energy goal means the campus will generate from renewable sources as much energy as consumed annually. To help achieve the Climate Action Plan's second goal of generating renewable power, UC Merced will install an 8-acre, 1 megawatt solar photovoltaic array this summer. The system will produce about two-thirds of the campus' electricity on a summer afternoon and 20 percent of its annual electricity needs. The project received California Solar Initiative funding administered through Pacific Gas & Electric.
RENEWABLE ENERGY GRANT
The campus was also awarded a pending $1 million Renewable-Based
Energy Secure Communities (RESCO) grant from the California Energy
Commission's Public Interest Energy Research program. The project,
a collaboration between the university's facilities division and
School of Engineering, explores the integration of three energy
strategies: energy efficiency, solar photovoltaics and plasma
gasification, a method that cleanly produces power from sewage and
"The RESCO grant is intended for so-called renewable-energy-secure communities who are trying to produce their power renewably," Elliott said. "It recognizes that we know how to do one-off renewable energy projects, but that it is more challenging to create a portfolio of renewable energy technologies that meets our needs. This research will help the university develop a seasonal approach to achieving zero net energy use."
The success of UC Merced's LEED program, along with the Climate Action Plan, the RESCO grant and other energy-related initiatives, will establish the university as a living laboratory to explore replicable, sustainable energy solutions.
Clark Manus, FAIA, chief executive officer of architectural firm Heller Manus in San Francisco, said the university is leading by example with its commitment to sustainability and energy-efficient practices.
"It couldn't be a better example to the students," said Manus, a national vice president of the American Institute of Architects. "It demonstrates what can be achieved with a collaborative, inspired team."For information about US Green Building Council LEED awards for UC Merced buildings: * Library Complex Awarded "Gold" LEED Certification (Jan. 18, 2008) 
To learn more about UC Merced's Environmental Stewardship
To view UC Merced's Climate Action Plan, go to:
University of California Office of the President Sustainability and/or the American College and University Climate Commitment Web sites.
UC Merced's Long Range Development Plan describes the four phases of campus development and establishes ambitious new objectives for sustainability and environmental stewardship. The document can be found at http://lrdp.ucmerced.edu .
Donna Birch Trahan