Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Kent Denver: First LEED Platinum Dining Hall in the USA

*note: this blog space is typically reserved for my own personal ramblings on architecture, construction & craft, but since this is a uniquely momentous occasion, I am allowing the line to blur a bit.

view from the west terrace [photo by carol mackay]

my employer, Semple Brown Design, P.C. just received word yesterday that a project I worked on [and administered the documentation] has been officially certified with a LEED "Platinum" rating. for those not familiar, that is one of the highest [and coveted] awards to be given to a building for its efforts towards sustainability. granted, LEED has been scrutinized lately for some of its shortcomings, but that being said: no system is perfect. in pursuit of mass awareness towards sustainability, few systems have made the strides that LEED has, and it should be credited for that. we'll save the "lessons learned" for a future post...

the old dining hall [south]

the old dining hall [southwest]

onto the project of discussion--Kent Denver School Dining Hall: Extension & Renovation was borne out of a desperate need for more adequate kitchen and dining space. the existing building had a meager 800 SF to serve over 700 people on a daily basis during 3 separate lunch periods with no more than 2 ovens and a large 4-burner stove [sounds impossible, but true]. not only were the diners cramped for space, the stretched lunch schedule governed the entire academic schedule of the campus. if a campus event required additional time, it was often hamstrung by the lunch scheduling. the old dining hall was becoming a confining entity, not contributing to campus life.

when the decision was made to pursue LEED certification, there were 3 major priorities: salvage as much of the existing building as possible, incorporate the dining hall's cycle of food culture into the campus, and reduce energy consumption. instead of taking away from the campus schedule and the community's infrastructure, it would reverse the trend and give back.

the completed extension & renovation [southwest]

as it turned out, 80% of the existing 1966 brick structure was salvaged to serve as a the re-configured kitchen area-- effectively tripling the functional area and capability of the old kitchen. an additional 12,000 SF was attached to the west side to expand the capacity of students during lunch to 450 [max], reducing the number of lunch periods down to 2. every effort was made to reduce water consumption, resulting in almost 50% water savings over baseline through water efficient landscaping and toilet fixtures. to achieve the Platinum level energy savings, the building envelope and mechanical systems were carefully considered, as well as a supplementary 27KW solar photovoltaic panel rooftop array. the final energy savings from baseline ended up at 42% over baseline, with the PVs contributing to 13% of that savings.

some more facts: exemplary performance was awarded for the installation of recycled and regional materials, with comparative to total materials costs of 33% and 31% respectively. for all the wood products used, 80% came from responsible FSC certified forests. and impressively, a total of 85 % of the construction waste from the entire project was diverted from the landfill, equalling 1,125.5 tons [2,251,000 pounds]. the building is possibly one of more cost effective "green" commercial use structures, coming in at $193 per square foot.

view of the salad bar and "living wall" beyond [photo by carol mackay]

along with the goal of being "green", the menu was completely re-vamped to promote healthier food options by placing a double line salad bar within direct line of sight from the main entry doors. just beyond the salad bar, another visual indication of the project's sustainable aspirations can be seen in a vertical "living wall", which is not host to decorative plants, but also to edible herbs such as basil and rosemary which the cooks use as ingredients on many occasions.

view of the serving lines

the living wall

to me, the most intriguing portion of the project is not the building, but the site features. a 100-count fruit tree orchard was planted to the west of the addition, which allows for outdoor classroom opportunities and the hopes to include the harvested produce into the meals. with the help of the students' beekeeping club, cross pollination of apple, apricot, plum and cherry trees will ensure that the trees have a better chance of yielding fruit in Denver's dry, high plains climate. on the opposite end of the cycle, the campus already practices a rigorous composting program, of which the dining hall is the main contributor and actually reduces what is considered "trash" to only 10% by relative weight ratio.

a bonus of the site was the advantage of spectacular westward views of the Colorado front range and rocky mountains beyond.

westward view [prior to construction]

all in all it was a very enlightening experience for this author, and definitely not easy in the least. time will ultimately reveal to us what approaches were successful and what aspects of the project required more evaluation. we can honestly say that the main goal, while definitely a perk, did not involve ideas of making something iconic or allow bragging rights of a trophy building. alternately, it is meant to be a statement of commitment towards learning about what "sustainability" means to the campus and to the community at large [culturally and economically]. it is by no means the only answer or a perfect answer to questions on the subject, but like any other educational endeavor it hopes to offer the knowledge base when discovering the future of our modern heritage.

sunset on the terrace

postscript--it took all the players: architects, owner, contractor, engineers, & builders to deliver such a work, so congratulations to everyone involved!