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Michigan Building Gains Prestigious Acclaim

Calvin College’s newest building may look like a simple cabin in the woods, but between a solar photovoltaic system, a composting toilet and a host of other features – the final design incorporates enough environmentally friendly features to qualify it for a prestigious Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Gold rating from the U.S. Green Building Council.

Grand Rapids, Michigan – April 20, 2004 [SolarAccess.com] The new 5,270-square-foot Vincent and Helen Bunker Interpretive Center – whose massive picture window surveys the south pond in Calvin’s Ecosystem Preserve – will be one of only a handful of buildings in West Michigan to qualify for a LEED gold rating. The building is slated for completion this summer and when it’s done it will welcome the many elementary school children and other visitors who regularly tour the preserve’s 90 acres of trails, ponds and wetlands. And via a series of interactive displays and lectures the center will even educate people about the site. The facility will also preach a cogent message on environmental stewardship says Calvin architect Frank Gorman, the building’s designer. “This building,” he says, “is a tool to help people better understand the environment and concepts of sustainability.” Gorman has partnered with biology professor and preserve director Randall Van Dragt to tailor the center to LEED specifications and to the preserve’s needs. Van Dragt has worked in the preserve since 1985, documenting the 135 species of birds, 30 species of mammals, 235 different plants and a variety of fish, reptiles and amphibians that call it home. VanDragt says he’s happy with the way the center is turning out. He especially like the open feel of the facility. “When I first wrote up criteria, for the building it included making it as environmentally sound as possible,” VanDragt said. “To my mind, walking in under those elevated trusses is like walking out in the forest. In the forest you see the structural elements.” LEED specifications award points for every aspect of a building’s sustainability: design, site, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, materials and indoor environmental quality design. A LEED gold rating – the second highest level of certification the U.S. Green Building Council grants – requires 39 to 51 out of 69 possible points. Gorman’s design works hard for its point total. Many of the building materials used – including paneling, insulation and interior trim – are made of recycled materials. Waste is handled by chemical composting toilets, a sophisticated apparatus independent of the city’s sewer system. Water from the sinks will filter through a biomass area – a large, indoor planter filled with water plants – before it recycles into the ponds. On days when the weather permits, the center’s windows will open automatically to regulate the center’s temperature. The landscaping surrounding the facility will use indigenous plants – which support other native species from fungi to butterflies. And the building will draw 60 percent or its power from the sun. The solar-powered element of the center, involving a large photovoltaic (PV) array on the building’s roof, was conceived by a student research committee. When the original budget failed to cover the solar project, senior engineering student Jordan Hoogendam wrote a grant proposal to the Energy Office of the State of Michigan. “I really, really wanted to see a technology like this displayed in a large way at Calvin,” says Hoogendam. The resulting $91,000 grant provided the PV panels and an instrument package, which Hoogendam and his team installed as their senior design project. “This is one of the most significant engineering design projects in the history of the college engineering program,” says engineering professor and power systems expert Paulo Ribeiro, who supervised the effort together with Chuck Holwerda, engineering department technician. Wolverine Construction Management is building all of these LEED features into Gorman’s simple, open design with clerestory windows, a large fieldstone fireplace, a biology classroom and conference space. In addition to providing Calvin with a classroom linked to the preserve, the new center will also further the many educational programs and camps the college hosts at the site. Helen Bunker, who also donated the Ecosystem Preserve to the college, gave the original $750,000 gift to build the interpretive center.