"PCC Newberg near net-zero goal"
The Newberg Center project could become Portland Community College's first net zero building. (Rendering courtesy of Hennebery Eddy Architects)
BY: Nathalie Weinstein
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No one will need to adjust the thermostat at Portland Community College’s Newberg Center on chilly days. The building itself will be able to take care of that.
The center is poised to open this fall as PCC’s first net-zero-ready building. The joint venture of R&H Construction/Colas Construction is tackling the $4.5 million project designed to generate 100 percent fewer carbon dioxide emissions than the average U.S. building of the same type and size. But that is dependent on whether money will be available to cover the cost of additional solar panels, according to Gary Sutton, PCC project manager.
The Newberg project, a 13,500-square-foot educational facility, is being paid for with money from a $374 million bond passed in 2008 for construction projects at seven PCC locations. To achieve the net-zero goal, Hennebery Eddy Architects‘ design calls for a highly insulated building envelope, passive heating/cooling systems and rooftop solar panels.
Presently, however, only 25 kilowatts of solar are budgeted for the building. Installation of the remaining 75 kilowatts may hinge on cash incentives available from the Energy Trust of Oregon, Sutton said. The estimated cost for the additional panels is approximately $400,000.
“The funding for the remaining solar panels would come out of our bond, which is limited,” Sutton said. “Right now, we are weighing the estimated cost against what the Energy Trust can offer us in terms of incentives. We are waiting on the Energy Trust to make an offer, but I am hopeful we can make a decision in the next few months, before (the building) is completed.”
The building’s key efficiency components are its passive heating and cooling systems, according to Doug Reimer, an associate with Hennebery Eddy. Structural insulated panels - precast walls made from rigid, foam-plastic insulation sandwiched between two layers of oriented strand board - make it difficult for air, and energy to escape through the building’s envelope.
Meanwhile, automated louvers open to let in air to cool the building, or close to keep heat from escaping, depending on classroom temperatures. Skylights distribute and diffuse natural light into classrooms and offices during the day; energy-efficient lights provide light for evening classes. A radiant heating slab makes up the building’s floor and uses warm water piped beneath classroom floors to keep students toasty in wintertime. Cool water could potentially be used in the summer, Reimer said.
“It’s not your typical building,” he said. “The mechanical systems are different and there are more skylights and louvers to control light and natural ventilation. People who maintain the building will need to learn some new things.”
For the contractors, the project requires efficient building techniques. The premade structural insulated panels must be installed just right, according to Mark Simpson, project manager with R&H, because modifying them later would be a daunting task. It’s a similar situation for the concrete slab floor.
“We’ve actually been waiting on a clear day so we can pour the whole slab,” Simpson said. “With a project like this, your ability to make changes is a lot more challenging. Pouring when it’s too cold outside increases the risk of breaking the slab.”
Another R&H Construction/Colas Construction joint venture, the June Key Delta House living building in Portland, has provided workers with net-zero experience, according to Andrew Colas, president of Colas Construction. Living buildings use systems similar to those being installed in the Newberg Center project.
“The June Key Delta project has really prepared my guys for working on this project,” Colas said. “More and more, we’re seeing this type of project being built. In 20 years, it will be a standard for building.”
The project is expected to wrap up before classes begin this fall, Sutton said. The college’s faculty and staff will receive training related to the unique systems, but the building will essentially operate independently.
“On winter mornings, the radiant heat kicks in to get the building up to temperature,” Sutton said. “At night in the summer, it opens up vents to pump in cool air (and) then closes in the morning to trap it. It’s exciting to be working in a living building that’s reacting and working in symbiosis with its environment.”