CU's tech hub meets gold standard

Green building has motion sensors for lights, eco-friendly construction

Sometimes, the lights suddenly shut off in technology chief Bobby Schnabel's new University of Colorado office.

But that's a good thing.

The university's Alliance for Technology, Learning and Society building, which made its debut this semester, is saving massive amounts of energy and water because of its environmentally friendly tricks and features. The technology hub is also being honored with one of the nation's highest awards for green design prestige that comes partly because of the building's clean construction, eco-friendly paint jobs, water-stingy urinals and lighting that sometimes leaves people in the dark.

"If you're sitting at your desk and haven't moved for a while, it thinks you're dead and turns the lights off on you," joked Schnabel, CU's vice provost for academic and campus technology.

Motion sensors cue lights to turn off when an ATLAS room or office becomes still, a smart device that covers for people who forget to flip off light switches when they leave.

The waterless urinals are another green feature noticed by those who teach, study and visit the building, Schnabel said.

Compared to other new buildings in Colorado, ATLAS is up to 30 percent more water and energy efficient, according to the campus's conservation office.

The technology building received the U.S. Green Building Council's gold rating under its Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program. The LEED program is considered the nation's benchmark for the design, construction and operation of green buildings. To achieve a gold rating, a building must meet high standards including sustainable site development, water-saving features, high levels of energy efficiency, use of green construction materials, extensive recycling of construction waste, and high indoor environmental quality.

The $31 million ATLAS building is the first in the university's three-campus system to earn the gold rating. Earlier this year, the renovation of the University Memorial Center received a silver certification.

"Recognizing the ATLAS building's sound, green construction only adds to the satisfaction of knowing our students and faculty have such a high-quality facility available to them in the heart of campus," Schnabel said.

The ATLAS building features a black-box theater, classrooms, a state-of-the-art production studio, video walls and other features.

As the building was designed, CU students demanded that their high-tech hub comply with strict environmental standards.

Faced with slashed state funding, the student union in 2004 approved a capital construction fee to provide money for four, large-scale construction projects, including ATLAS. Student leaders tied in a stipulation that required the new buildings receive at least silver ratings from the U.S. Green Building Council.

The student fees, which began this fall, amount to $21 million of the building's overall budget and will cost students up to $400 a year.

Eugene Pearson, a CU alumnus who was a student leader at the time the fee passed, said a majority of landfill waste comes from construction materials. That's just one reason why the students pushed for green buildings.

"It was important to students and the student union at the time, because we've always had this strong tradition of being the bellwether of environmental change in the country," Pearson said. "There's a very long tradition of student-driven environmental initiatives at CU."

For example, he said, in 2000, students voted to increase their fees by $1 to buy wind energy to light buildings on campus, making the university the largest green-power purchaser. The university also was among the first to have a recycling program.

Contact Camera Staff Writer Brittany Anas at (303) 473-1132 or anasb@dailycamera.com.