URI pharmacy students, faculty to experience a new healthy, sustainable building

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KINGSTON, R.I. –September 4, 2012 – University of Rhode Island pharmacy students and faculty have moved to a new academic home – a sunny, environmentally friendly building constructed in the Kingston campus’ new North Science District.

The $75 million pharmacy building, which opens officially today, will feature bright open classrooms and laboratories, healthy indoor work spaces, energy-efficient lighting systems, high-technology mechanical systems, and a site footprint with a minimal impact on the natural environment.

The sophisticated five-story, 144,000-square-foot science facility was designed by Payette architects of Boston and is expected to earn a “Gold” rating in the U.S Green Building Council’s LEED® rating system. The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program is an established international system for measuring the sustainability qualities of new and renovated buildings. URI has already constructed six LEED certified buildings, with five others in planning or construction.

“The Rhode Island building codes are already very progressive in promoting energy-efficient and environmentally sustainable projects, and this building design goes far beyond those baseline requirements,” said Thomas Frisbie-Fulton, director of Campus Planning and Design at URI.

The air handling and heating and cooling systems are unique at URI. In the pharmacy research labs, air-quality requirements call for large amounts of air to be exhausted from the chemical fume hoods. Consequently, replacement fresh air must be continually introduced to the building. The heating and cooling of this fresh air is supplemented by three large energy-reclaiming “enthalpy” wheels, which extract clean energy from the exhaust air for reuse in treating the fresh air.

“The new College of Pharmacy, through its technology and design, will use 21.6 percent less energy than a traditional building of this size. We expect to save nearly $160,000 a year in utility costs,” said Frisbie-Fulton.

“The new pharmacy building will be a sustainability model for science buildings at other universities,” added Frisbie-Fulton.

The indoor air distribution system works in concert with “chilled beams,” a system of radiant heating and cooling panels that reduces the need for large motors and fans. The chilled beam system employs heated and cooled water circulated throughout the building to efficiently distribute energy as needed. The offices and classrooms will have user-friendly temperature control of individual rooms, allowing a minimum of energy to be used when spaces are not occupied.

Walking through the new building, a visitor is struck by the extent of sunlight reaching far into the interior. South-facing exterior sunshades reduce summer radiant heating in the offices and classrooms, and redirect sunlight to the ceilings, which then reflects deep into the building. These features greatly minimize the need for artificial light during the day.

“This is a science building that is not only efficient, but also provides a very healthy work environment,” Frisbie-Fulton said.

The three student lounges, which have views of the college’s new medicinal plant garden, feature large walls of glass to let natural light stream in. Each lounge contains a large wall of live plants, which will naturally cleanse the air of carbon dioxide through photosynthesis. Paint, carpets, and furniture materials made without hazardous, odiferous solvents, also enhance the indoor air quality of the building.

To reduce the building’s impact on the environment, the design embraces recycled materials and sustainably-minded construction. The concrete floors and wallboards contain waste fly ash and the ceiling tiles contain up to 80 percent recycled paper products. The zinc roofing has a 100-year life and a lower embodied energy content than aluminum roofing materials. The restrooms will feature fixtures to minimize water use, including aerating faucets, dual flush toilets and waterless urinals. All of the maple woodwork is sourced from forests certified by the Forest Stewardship Council to meet strict socially responsible forest management practices.

Even before construction began on the building, work was under way to recycle the former Biological Sciences Center, a 1960s era concrete structure that was demolished and pulverized into gravel to be used as backfill for the foundation of the new building. Razing the old building made room for a distinctive new landscape quadrangle bounded by the pharmacy building, the Center for Biotechnology and Life Sciences, the Coastal Institute building and Flagg Road.

“We are reimagining our academic spaces to reflect URI’s sustainability values,” Frisbie-Fulton said. “This is a highly technical facility that responds to the College of Pharmacy’s emerging position as a world-class place for teaching and research. Yet we have also designed built-in flexibility, so as teaching and research methods change over the next 50 years, we will be able to reconfigure spaces without the high cost of new construction.”

The building itself also serves as a “green” teaching laboratory for students, who will not only be able to study medicinal plants in the garden, but also track and measure the quality of rainwater flowing through the site drainage system.

According to Frisbie-Fulton, the architecture of the 384-foot long, five-story building reflects the transformational spirit of the university. The new landscaped quadrangle to the north has the same qualities as URI’s historic quadrangle designed by the Olmstead brothers in 1896. While the building’s brick north face echoes the mill building shapes of Rhode Island’s industrial heritage, the south and east sides express a delicate connection with the natural environments of URI’s botanical and medicinal gardens.