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University buildings lean toward green

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Posted: Wednesday, February 25, 2009 9:00 pm

The old adage warns that you are who you hang out with. And Gonzaga keeps that in mind regarding who it does business with. The largest contractual relationships, aside from the city of Spokane and Sodexo, involve construction projects. Many of the recent projects have been built by Walker Construction Inc., and designed by Wolfe Architectural Group. "We're careful about who we do business with," Vice President of Finance Chuck Murphy said. "Many we've done business with for many years, and up front, we let them know our expectations." However, when it comes down to it, Gonzaga contracts with businesses and businesses have bottom lines. "There is an upperlimit on what can be done based on the funding available," Murphy said. "There has to be a life cycle cost analysis." Murphy said the trends of "green" building and LEED certification, a high rating of energy efficiency, have become larger issues in the past couple years. Still, Murphy finds in this area of being environmentally responsible, cost still drives business practices. Gonzaga's construction costs do not come from the annual operating budget, instead they come from a borrowed budget, according to Murphy. "We have to take into consideration the return on investment," Murphy said. "If there is a three-year return, we look at it more aggressively than a 20-year payback." Murphy used the example of building a new roof. They have to evaluate whether it is worth it to pay for a roof that will last 10 years or spend more to build one that will last 20 years. Whether or not in 10 years they will have the funds to replace it is another factor. "The great thing about doing buildings for Gonzaga is that they design buildings that are going to last," said Ed Walker, vice president of Walker Construction Inc. "That has not changed since we started working with them 17 years ago, and everybody who works for them knows this going into the project." Walker Construction, which is building Cincinnati Villa, does factor sustainability into its building practices, but not based on contract stipulations. Generally the efforts are appreciated, Walker said. "Walker Construction has always tried to implement building practices that are efficient and minimize waste on our job sites," Walker said. "Whether it is cleaning and reusing concrete forms or finding ways to refurbish and reuse existing hollow metal door frames, we have always tried to find ways to use materials on hand, rather than buying new for everything." The company sorts out recyclable metal materials from the demolition debris, and the framers dispose of wood waste materials separately so that they can be recycled. Mike Wallace, of Wolfe Architectural Group, said building the Villas with a modular design cut down on wood waste from the framing. "If it had been stick built, there would have been a lot more waste," Wallace said. "The framing was trucked from a factory to the site. In a factory the framing can be built more precisely, reducing waste, and more efficiently because weather isn't an issue." Wallace said the choice of material and design choices were as the result of an extensive collaboration between Gonzaga and the architects to build Cincinnati Villa, Gonzaga's first live-learn dormitory. "We are using a lot more brick, as opposed to Kennedy [Apartments], because it lasts longer, it's more durable and it requires a lot less maintenance," Wallace said. It will be equipped with a standard mechanical system, but according to Wallace the state energy requirements are not far from those required for LEED certification. "If you want to spend more money you can get a much more sophisticated mechanical system," Wallace said. "But who knows what the payback is." If he could have changed anything, Wallace said it would have been to make the building taller. "Zoning laws only allowed it be 55 feet high," Wallace said. "Just another 6 inches on each floor would have increased the functionality of the mechanical system." Walker said he is not well versed on what current data might suggest about "green" structures, but thinks personally that it is worthwhile and making a difference. "We have learned that, depending on what level you are trying to attain, the costs associated with doing 'green' building practices are not that significant in the big picture of things," Walker said. "Gonzaga has always been good at staying on the forefront of new technologies and continually updating and upgrading their areas." Wallace thinks there are collateral effects to sustainable building that may be difficult to quantify. "Let's say a family comes from Seattle or Portland and doesn't see the LEED buildings on Gonzaga's campus. They may wonder why," Wallace said. "It may not be a determining factor, but it plays to the overall image of Gonzaga, how progressive they are and how are they competing with campuses up and down the West Coast."

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