LEED Buildings Energy-wise construction on campus aims for beauty and efficiency.

The University of Utah in recent years has committed to building environmentally friendly buildings. Most of the new buildings on campus, as well as those under construction, surpass new state building requirements and do or will meet the U.S. Green Building Council’s requirements for LEED certification, the foremost rating system for green buildings. LEED, which stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, is intended to guide green considerations in everything from building design to construction and operations.

The Spencer F. and Cleone P. Eccles Health Sciences Education Building was the first LEED-certified building on campus, in 2006. In 2008, the University Facilities Planning Department and collaborating community members created a Campus Master Plan that aspired to have all future buildings consume less energy and water, and be built with a high percentage of locally produced and sustainable materials. Achieving LEED certification would mean spending more money up front, but in the long term would save the University money, energy, and other resources.

In 2009, the state required that all new public buildings be certified LEED Silver, or roughly 20 percent more energy efficient than the minimum building code. New U buildings that were built after that—the Sutton Geology and Geophysics Building, the James L. Sorenson Molecular Biotechnology Building – A USTAR Innovation Center, the Spencer Fox Eccles Business Building, and the Natural History Museum of Utah—all attained that standard or higher, as did the renovated V. Randall Turpin University Services Building, which achieved LEED Gold status. Then, in 2011, the University raised the bar to 40 percent more energy efficiency for all of its planned new buildings, including the Student Life Center, the Beverley Taylor Sorenson Arts and Education Complex, and the planned new football training center.

Many existing and aging buildings will eventually require remodeling, and the U is aiming for new energy efficiency standards in those renovations. That mindset helped shape plans for changes in the College of Architecture + Planning building, which is currently undergoing a net-zero retrofit, meaning it may eventually generate as much energy as it consumes.

Bruce Gillars, associate director of Space Planning and Management, says many more buildings will eventually need to undergo similar revisions. “On central campus, for every building built since 2000, we have 12 buildings built between 1901 and 1999, including 40 built before 1960. All these buildings have aged and sometimes have failing infrastructure, but are fully occupied the majority of the day and into the night.” Eventually, Gillars says, all of these buildings will need to be upgraded or replaced to meet the University’s future sustainability goals.

Last year, the U joined the U.S. Department of Energy’s Better Buildings Challenge, a national leadership initiative designed to stimulate economic growth through energy savings by making American buildings 20 percent more energy efficient by 2020. “We’re going to see in the next few years buildings even better than 40 percent above code,” says Office of Sustainability director and green architect Myron Willson. “There’s been a real change, in the last two years even, on how our buildings will be performing. They will be beautiful and incredibly efficient.”

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