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TSAV Celebrates LEED Gold Certification with Western Carolina University

WCU building receives LEED gold certification


DECEMBER 12, 2013

Western Carolina University’s Health and Human Sciences Building has become the university’s first structure to be LEED-certified for its comprehensive energy-efficient and environmentally friendly features.
The U.S. Green Building Council recently awarded the four-story, 160,000 square-foot building, which opened in 2012, LEED, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, certification at the second highest possible level – gold. The certification was based on an assessment of the building project in five categories – sustainable site, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, materials and resources, indoor environmental quality and innovation in design.

“Our initial goal was for the building to be certified at least at the silver level, but as the design and construction process continued and new LEED points were defined, the architects worked very hard to gather information to obtain the gold certification,” said Galen May, university architect.

Designed by architects with the firm of PBC+L (now Clark Nexsen), the Health and Human Sciences Building is nestled into a mountainside in a way that minimizes environmental impact and includes such features as reflective surfaces on the roof and a rooftop garden to keep heat absorption at bay. The orientation of windows and the sun screens on the building’s exterior maximize natural daylight to reduce energy needs for lighting and are positioned to reduce the need for heating and air conditioning. Other green design elements range from using regional products to incorporating water conservation measures.

“Our unique location and educational mission makes our campus a great living laboratory for engaging our students, faculty and staff in regards to sustainability,” said Lauren R. Bishop, chief sustainability officer at WCU. “We strive to create healthy learning environments. What better way to achieve this goal than with an actual building? Americans spend an average of 90 percent of their time indoors. If we can build a green building that helps to connect us with the outdoors, is energy efficient and provides comfortable spaces for educating our community, then we are making the right choice for creating a sustainable and resilient campus.”

The Health and Human Sciences Building was constructed to bring under one roof students and faculty from disciplines including nursing, physical therapy, communication sciences and disorders, social work, athletic training, emergency medical care, environmental health, nutrition and dietetics, and recreational therapy. The facility features customized classrooms and seminar rooms, and 21 specialized labs that serve more than 1,200 undergraduate students and 300 graduate students in diverse high-demand, health-related programs.

May said LEED certification was in its early stages of development when discussion about the building design began. There was broad support from architects, engineers and others for creating a project that would meet LEED standards, and university officials considered the prospect tentatively.

“At WCU, discussions began with recognizing that this was grand, but could we afford it?” said May. 

Then in 2007, as design work began in earnest and two years before WCU broke ground on the $46 million building project, a state bill passed requiring all state-owned buildings greater than 20,000 square feet to meet requirements to reduce energy usage, and those requirements also met standards for LEED certification at the silver level.

WCU is currently seeking LEED certification at the gold level for Harrill Residence Hall after completing a $15.5 million renovation project that included features such as a geothermal heating and air-conditioning system. The system harnesses the earth’s energy by transferring heat absorbed by the earth via geothermal wells to heat and cool the building and then take the “wasted heat” and use it to heat water for showers. Also, the building’s exterior wall insulation and canopies control sunlight entering the building. A display panel in the lobby shares information about the building’s environmentally friendly features as well as current energy use.

For more information about sustainability initiatives at WCU, contact Bishop at 828-227-3562 or

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