Bristol Bay Campus receives LEED certification

Oct 16, 2015

The Applied Sciences building in downtown Dillingham was recognized for meeting energy and environmental standards.

UAF Bristol Bay Campus Director Deborah McLean and sustainable energy professor Tom Marsik hold the official LEED certificate outside of the Applied Sciences in August, when it arrived.
Credit Courtesy Tom Marsik

What was once an old auto store is now the first building in the University of Alaska system to receive a formal certification for its energy-efficient and environmentally-friendly design. KDLG's Molly Dischner reports...

Dillingham: The Applied Sciences Center received a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, certification based primarily on energy-related criteria said project champion Tom Marsik, assistant professor of sustainable energy at the University of Alaska Fairbanks Bristol Bay Campus.

"My hope is that it encourages others, or other parts of the University of Alaska system, to be more energy efficient," he said.

Marsik said the renovations focused on improving the facility's teaching space, but provided a perfect opportunity to make the building more energy efficient. The building houses the sustainable energy and environmental studies programs on the main floor, and apartments above them.

The campus purchased the old NAPA store when they were looking to expand, because it's right across the street from the main building. Marsik said the renovation was completed in 2014, and then the campus applied for the certification. The LEED certification was awarded in April, but just received in August.

The certificate applies just to the first floor, which is the portion that was retrofitted in 2013. Marsik said it's also the first LEED certification for Bristol Bay.

Marsik said that the renovation means the facility itself can serve as a model for other projects.

"We live in Alaska in a cold climate," Marsik said. "We have a lot of old buildings."

Credit Courtesy Tom Marsik

  He doesn't think every building needs the certification, but he would like to see the green building techniques incorporated elsewhere. The renovation included a focus on techniques that could be applied by other projects, and Marsik said he's hoping it sparks more energy-efficient buildings in the University system, and in the Bristol Bay region.

"My message is about having green buildings, where energy is an important component, especially in Alaska," Marsik said.

A major feature of the building is the REMOTE wall technique, which was refined by the Cold Climate Housing Research Center in Fairbanks, and is a way for many buildings in Alaska to increase their energy efficiency, Marsik said. Essentially, the project added six inches of foam insulation to the outside of the building, making it retain more heat.

That upgrade was paired with a heat recovery system that improves ventilation while reducing heat loss, which helps with both the energy side of the building and making it a healthy environment.

"We are recovering the heat from the warm stale air that is going out, and transferring it to the fresh cold air that is coming in," Marsik explained.

Those systems are more common in residential buildings than commercial ones, he said. That's because it can be a more difficult upgrade in a retrofit project because it addresses the ventilation system in the building, and not all buildings have room for it. The Applied Sciences building required enough of an overhaul that it was possible to add the system.

The building itself serves as a teaching tool. Marsik, who teaches some building courses, said that students can measure the walls and calculate the expected R-value based on the insulation, and also get into the crawlspace to see how the HRV works.

"It's not just for students in classes," Marsik said. "If we have events here, we use it as an educational opportunity."

Marsik said the design was contracted out by the university's facility services department, and he was one of several people who made suggestions along the way for energy-efficient components. He also provided documentation as to how some of his suggestions, like triple-pane windows, would pencil out.

The LEED certification looks at seven different areas. Some criteria were out of reach for the Applied Sciences building, including those that looked at how far building materials had to be shipped and access to public transportation, in part because it's in rural Alaska.

The project focused on the criteria that was achievable in rural Alaska, like site selection and energy use and savings. Four levels of certification are possible; the applied sciences facility received the basic certification.

Marsik said it's difficult to compare energy use of the renovated building with its pre-renovation status because the data isn't available, and it's now used for an entirely different purpose. But he noted that an Alaska Housing Finance Corp. study showed that the average public building in Alaska uses 149,372 BTUs per square foot in a year, while the new Applied Sciences facility uses an estimated 55,000 BTU per square foot per year.

Not all of the features focus on energy.

Marsik said the LEED criteria also looks at health components of the building, so it uses low VOC paint and other building materials that are considered better for health.

That came in handy when the university hosted a training session for the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, and was able to meet the criteria for a healthy space, Marsik said.