NAU Research Facility Demonstrates Green Building Techniques
Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff is currently constructing
the $21 million Applied Research and Development facility,
a 61-000-sq.-ft. collaborative research building located at
one of the school's most prominent entrances. The building
team will attempt to be the first to achieve a LEED platinum
rating in Arizona
From the beginning, the new Applied Research
and Development facility at Northern Arizona University was
conceived by the school's administration as a LEED platinum-certified
But the task was not easy.
"Building a LEED project at 7,000-ft. elevation is a
major issue," said Mark Wilhelm, principal with Phoenix-based
Green Ideas, the green building consultant on the project.
"Flagstaff has more freeze/thaw cycles than just about
any place in the country. No other platinum buildings have
been attempted at this altitude."
Concrete can take longer to cure and glazing can perform differently
due to lower atmospheric pressure, Wilhelm added.
To date there are less than two dozen LEED platinum-rated
buildings in the world, only one of which also includes lab
space, according to the U.S. Green Building Council's Web
The main tenant of the NAU building will be the Center for
Sustainable Environments. The center focuses on reducing the
ecological impacts of energy use, water, food production,
transportation and building.
One of the major issues in the NAU project was controlling
the budget in the university facility built with public funds.
While going for LEED-certified (the lowest level of designation)
doesn't necessarily add significant costs to a project, the
project team had to examine what it would take to achieve
platinum, the highest rating possible, said Robin Shambach,
project architect and principal with executive architect Burns
Wald-Hopkins Architects of Tucson, the firm that designed
Arizona's first LEED-certified building, the Desert Vista
Campus for Pima Community College in Tucson.
"There was some education on the owner as well, as to
the cost implications of a platinum building and how that
would influence the design and construction phases,"
With the final budget set at $20.5 million, the firm partnered
with London-based design architect Hopkins Architects and
San Francisco-based Ove Arup & Partners, the mechanical,
electrical and structural engineer. Phoenix-based Kitchell
Contractors was selected as the construction manager-at-risk.
The three-story building includes lab space on the top floor,
office space on the first and second, and meeting rooms.
The Center for Sustainable Environments regularly collaborates
with several federal land agencies, which will also lease
space in the new building, including the National Park Service
and the U.S. Geological Survey.
While originally planned as an 80,000-sq.-ft. building, construction
cost escalations resulted in a reduction in size to nearly
60,000 sq. ft. by removing two structural bays during value
engineering, according to Marty Olson, project director with
Another preconstruction challenge was in finding materials.
"One of the LEED platinum requirements is to find materials
within a 500-mi. radius," Olson said.
"The closer you are able to find those materials the
less travel time and fuels are expended in getting that material
Finding enough subcontractors in northern Arizona that were
experienced in LEED was also difficult. To drum up interest
in the project, Kitchell held several subcontractor fairs
at NAU to solicit as much local participation as possible.
Kitchell and Green Ideas provided LEED training and orientation
as needed once subcontractors were selected.
To maximize the opportunity to gain additional LEED points,
the building's design called for use of both structural steel
"If you build a steel building, you are going to get
a lot of points on the recycled content, but if you build
a concrete building, you'll get points for local/regional
content," Wilhelm said. "This building had to be
a mixture of the two because we wanted all those points to
achieve platinum. So it became a much more challenging design."
Construction began in June 2005 near a prominent entrance
to the campus and within a city of Flagstaff detention basin.
"If you look at the site plan, the first thing you notice
is the large area for the detention basin, and then our building
is shaped around that," Shambach said. "The orientation
is very critical - it is south-southeast to gather light and
allow for some solar heating."
The structural concrete provides solar massing, which helps
level temperature swings throughout the day. A three-story
gallery space faces the basin, fronted by a gently curving
curtain wall system.
"The gallery space allows for solar gain and for light
penetration, and the actual footprint of the building is long
and narrow, allowing for views and daylighting as much as
possible throughout the space," Shambach added.
To maximize LEED points for use of recycled content, local
materials and as one of four allowed innovation credits, the
cement content of the project's concrete was reduced by using
40 percent fly ash, a by-product of coal-fired power plants.
"That was a big deal," Shambach said. "It hadn't
really been done before in exposed architectural concrete."
There was a possibility that using that much fly ash would
create a finish that was too uneven in color or too dark.
"We poured a mock-up to see what the concrete would look
like for the architect and owner," Olson said. "We
had to work around different vibrating techniques to mitigate
air pockets that could be exposed in the concrete once the
forms were stripped, but all in all it turned out very well.
One of our biggest challenges turned out to be one of our
Other significant green building features of the project include
a low-pressure under-floor ventilation system, evaporative
cooling, natural ventilation and heat recovery via heat wheels
and heat pipes. "The users of the building may need to
participate more in their own comfort," as opposed to
a typically air-conditioned building, Shambach said.
Another innovation was using pervious concrete on the parking
lot instead of conventional asphalt pavement. The recently
developed product is porous to allow water drainage and to
reduce the heat-island effect.
"It will be the first pervious pavement in the state
of Arizona," Olson said. "It's going to be an interesting
product here that will be used as a teaching tool on this
The entire building will also perform double-duty as a teaching
tool for students and the community. A meeting room will feature
a planted green roof, which acts as an insulator and stormwater
management system. "The upper floors look down on it
and it's a great opportunity to model for the community what
a green roof looks like and how it works," Shambach said.
The project inspired Phoenix-based power supplier APS to donate
$1 million to help fund the project and to provide solar photovoltaic
cells what will supply up to 20 percent of the power for the
The building will be complete in the first quarter 2007, but
it will not be the last green building for the campus. "Through
working with NAU, we have developed a campus-wide LEED program,"
said Charlie Popeck, principal with Green Ideas. "The
university is committed to building to the LEED standard."
Owner: Arizona Board of Regents
Architect: Burns Wald-Hopkins Architects; Hopkins Architects
Construction Manager: Kitchell Contractors
LEED Consultant: Green Ideas
Electrical: JFK Electrical Contracting
Mechanical: Climatec; Dial Mechanical; Boyer Metal Co.
Concrete: Kitchell Contractors
Steel: Triad Steel Services;
S Diamond Steel; The Structures Group
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