USC Opens Green Dorm and Learning Center

A new dorm and learning center at U of South Carolina is, hopefully, the beginning of a trend in educational facilities. A "green" facility called West Quad, (172,000-square-feet) includes three four-story buildings that house 500 undergraduates. The complex, built with a significant amount of recycled materials--ranging from cement blocks, copper roofs to interior carpeting--is intended to....encourage students to learn more about their environment.

Biology students, faculty, and residents even helped grow and plant drought-resistant, low-growing greenery as part of an extensive storm-water filtering and management system. The complex also boasts an outdoor amphitheater; a cafeteria that sells healthy foods and environmentally sensitive products; and a 9,000-square-foot living and learning center where classes are held on sustainability, environmental groups can hold meetings, and faculty can host conferences.

The complex, which cost $30.9 million to build, came in at about the same cost as a traditional residence hall, despite the fast-dissolving myth that building green costs more. Furthermore, its systems will operate with significantly reduced utility costs since the facility uses 45% less energy and 20% less water than traditional residence halls of the same size. Water is preheated by a solar collection system and electricity and hot water for the learning center are generated partly by a five-kilowatt hydrogen fuel cell, which also will be used as a teaching tool by chemical-engineering faculty. The turf roof on the learning center not only cools the building by absorbing heat but reduces rainwater runoff, improving storm water management. The complex will also contribute fewer greenhouse gases, since its heating, ventilation, cooling, refrigeration and fire suppression systems are free of ozone-depleting substances.

Special light shelves in the windows ensure energy efficiency and comfort by deflecting natural light into the rooms and reflecting it off the ceiling to light the room and reduce the heat of direct sunlight. Interior lights have motion sensors. Low-flow plumbing, high-efficiency washers and dryers, a changing room for bicyclists who commute to campus and lots of outdoor green space for relaxation add to West Quad's intelligent design.

USC is currently waiting for the U.S. Green Building Council to dole out its much-coveted LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification on the building. (To date, only two universities have dorms with the accolades--Carnegie Mellon Duke University.) We're waiting for students to begin to choose schools based on their greenness; when they do, the demand for building such facilities will obviously increase in order for schools to remain competitive. An academic setting where both education and research can focus on the technology at hand is a tremendously auspicious venue and sector of the population for LEED and green building to catch on. And given the prospects of buzz and the echo boomers to create buzz and generate demand is excellent news indeed. Via Interior Design ::USC [by MO]