Built in 2011, the Ecotech Institute campus is one of the few LEED Gold-certified schools in Colorado. The 62,000-square-foot facility is an architectural marker of efficiency and sustainability in the Denver metro area. However, not everyone knows the details behind the technologies that went into its creation.
Ecotech Institute aimed to create a LEED-certified training facility for a college that would focus entirely on preparing graduates for careers in renewable energy.
But instead of erecting an entirely new building, the team decided to exercise a more environmentally friendly approach by transforming an existing large footprint building in Aurora into a facility that could also serve as an asset to the community.
“One of the project team’s goals was to ‘recycle’ an existing vacant building,” says Rob Walker, Founder and Principal of Rob Walker Architects. “Taking an existing structure and reinventing it with energy- and resource-saving technologies, allowed us to enhance and revitalize the surrounding community rather than disturbing undeveloped land.”
In the spirit of sustainability, 98 percent of the building’s existing exterior walls, roof, floor, and structure were reused in the development process.
“This strategy allowed us to reduce the environmental impact of the construction,” says Walker. “Also, by reusing an existing building, we were able to significantly reduce energy use and construction waste that is normally associated with demolishing a building or new construction.”
In fact, 92 percent of the construction waste generated during the project was committed to recycling. Walker adds: “In total, we were able to collect 279 tons of recyclable materials and redirect them to various recycling programs, thus diverting them from going to landfills.”
To reflect Ecotech Institute’s commitment to renewable energy, the campus building was equipped with a variety of energy generating technologies. These include rooftop solar panels, eight small wind turbines mounted on top of the building, a larger vertical axis turbine installed near the main entrance, and two solar trees capable of producing 16.9 kilowatts of electricity each.
“The Ecotech campus gets more than five percent of its peak load electricity from these renewable sources,” says Walker. “Together, the on-site energy generation systems can produce more than 65,000-kilowatt-hours of electricity per year.”
And the environmentally friendly features don’t stop there. Reducing the environmental impact even further, the construction team utilized materials that consist of recycled elements, which included reinforcing and structural steel, asphalt paving, exterior wall panels, insulation, steel and wood used for door and window frames, carpet, tile, and much more.
Walker adds: “One of our main strategies in building this campus besides being as eco-friendly as possible, was to provide a healthy learning environment for the students. That’s why, in addition to a host of water and energy conserving technologies, we made sure to utilize special low volatile organic compound (low-VOC) materials throughout the campus, which included paints, flooring, sealants, adhesives, and composite wood products. In simpler terms, low-VOC materials are made to reduce the amount of emitted pollutants and improve indoor air quality.”
Under the direction of Rob Walker Architects, the certification process by Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) began during the planning and design phases of the project. The long and tedious certification process continued during construction and was finalized after the Ecotech Institute campus was complete. Recognized globally, LEED rates all sorts of buildings across several categories, including energy use and air quality. Based on the overall score, a building can earn one of four LEED rating levels: Certified, Silver, Gold or Platinum. The energy-saving technologies implemented in the Ecotech Institute campus building allowed it to earn a prestigious Gold-level rating.
“It was a very time-consuming process which involved a lot of documentation and verification, but it was worth it,” notes Walker. “We wanted to make sure that Ecotech Institute students can see for themselves how all the clean energy technologies they study in the curriculum can be implemented in real life. This practical approach to teaching lies at the core of Ecotech Institute’s approach to education, and we wanted its campus to reflect that.”