Sustainability is a very important theme in Greater Texas Foundation’s work to increase postsecondary education attainment for Texas residents. When it was time to construct a new building for the foundation in 2010, GTF’s board of directors carried this theme forward through the design and construction process. They wanted to make wise resource decisions in the construction of this facility, both financial and natural; to take a leadership role in the community; and to design a building that embodied the principles of long-term sustainability, just as the foundation aims for sustainability in its grantmaking. For these reasons, GTF set out to build the first Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Gold Certified facility in the Brazos Valley.
LEED is an internationally-recognized green building certification system. Developed by the US Green Building Council (USGBC) in March 2000, LEED provides building owners and operators with a framework for implementing practical green building design, construction, operations, and maintenance solutions that balance environmental responsibility, resource efficiency, occupant comfort, and community sensitivity.
GTF’s new facility was completed in 2011 and certified as LEED Gold for new construction in 2012. Our site and building include several features that promote environmental sustainability.
Ecologically Balanced Site Design
GTF’s landscaping plan combines native and adaptive plants in an effort to restore the native ecosystem. Years of overgrazing lead to ecological imbalances, such as the proliferation of non-native and invasive plant species. This is a common occurrence throughout Texas prairie regions, including the Brazos Valley’s Post Oak Savanna. Reintroducing the natural beauty of native plant and prairie grass species while minimizing the use of high-maintenance turf helps to restore the land’s once thriving ecological richness and biodiversity, creating a self-maintaining, sustainable landscape with minimal irrigation requirements.
The site features innovative irrigation and water management systems. A large cistern collects run-off from the roof and air conditioning condensation so it can be used to supplement GTF’s traditional irrigation system. Two ponds on the property collect excess storm water to mitigate flooding while serving as an aesthetic amenity. Finally, GTF’s site includes a bioswale—a low-gradient basin system containing a dense cover of vegetation used to maintain a clean runoff during storms. The bioswale enhances the quality of rainwater running off the site’s impervious cover, including the parking lot. Its gentle grade slows water flow, while soil and vegetation filter and store runoff that removes 30% to 80% of pollutants. The bioswale acts like a sponge, absorbing rainwater and slowly filtering and releasing it further into the ground, which promotes ground water recharge and minimizes runoff into streams and rivers. It is an environmentally sensitive approach to pollution control that adds natural beauty to the community and provides a haven for mammals and birds.
Optimized Energy Performance
The building’s orientation allows it to respond to the sun, not the street grid. The short sides of the building face the east and west to minimize the amount of glazing facing the low-angle sun. Roof overhangs on the north and south facades provide shade from the high-angle sun and allow maximum glazing for views. Together, these strategies work to decrease the solar heat gain and result in less energy required to cool the building.
Each office is equipped with its own temperature controller, allowing occupants to use only the amount of heating or cooling that they require. Additionally, the HVAC system uses a variable refrigerant flow system with heat recovery. Simply put, this means that each of the individual indoor HVAC units only uses the required refrigerant that it needs to satisfy its room load. Any excess heat is directed to any of the other zones in the system that may require that heat before signaling the outdoor unit to reject the heat.
Access to daylight inside the building makes for healthier and more comfortable occupants and is also linked with greater productivity. All of the exterior glazing in the project is a high-performance glass that efficiently maintains indoor comfort by blocking the sun’s heat, while letting in lots of natural light and views. Every occupied space in the building is flooded with natural light during the daytime, which means the electricity required to light those spaces is reduced.
The Parker Lumber building, an early 1900’s commercial warehouse building in downtown Bryan, was slated for demolition as part of the city’s improvement plans while GTF’s new facility was being designed. Rather than being sent from the warehouse to the landfill, the wood was carefully removed, refurbished, and reused in many areas of the foundation’s new facility. Old-growth long leaf pine was used for the roof structure, flooring, wall base and custom furniture. Second-cut long leaf was used for blocking and structure for inside walls and interior windowsills.
All construction materials used in the building were reviewed for their environmental impact, including their source, recycled content, recyclability, and effect on indoor air quality, as well as the energy required to create and transport them. To minimize the energy expended to transport building materials, emphasis was given to regional products. For this building, 20% of total materials were manufactured within 500 miles of the site. At least 50% of those materials were also extracted, harvested, or recovered within 500 miles of the site.
GTF continues to run a sustainable sourcing operation by implementing environmentally-friendly purchasing practices and a recycling program. Furthermore, green cleaning and integrated pest management ensure the indoor air quality is not compromised by operational practices.
We trust that our building will positively impact the environment, provide a model for our community, and serve the needs of future generations as a complement to our grantmaking. If you find yourself in the Bryan-College Station area, we invite you to drop by and visit!