The president of Washington State University and a euphoric crowd of Cougars celebrated the school’s new student union as the human heart of the Tri-Cities campus Thursday.
As Kurt Schulz noted, the 10,000-square-foot student union is more than a gleaming compilation of glass, metal, brick and mortar.
It’s the place where students and faculty will intermingle, where bad days will be made better and where the human side of the college experience occurs.
In an era where virtual is replacing actual, Schulz said places such as the student union still matter.
The “place” is a student-led initiative, financed by fees students put on themselves. The addition, one trustee noted, turns the Richland campus into a “real” university where students not only attend class but study, recreate and interact in a casual setting.
The $5.7 million student union also is notable for the quality of its construction. It is the latest addition to the Mid-Columbia’s growing collection of buildings designed with sustainability in mind.
It is one of more than 30 Tri-City projects designed to meet the nonprofit U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design standard for energy, water use, design and materials.
Washington was ninth in the nation for LEED projects in 2016, according to the Green Building Council.
WSU Tri-Cities’ new student gathering spot is designed to LEED’s “silver” criteria. As with many local projects, it won’t go through the costly procession of authenticating the claim so there will be no LEED plaque. Even so, the building packs a green punch.
It was designed by Schacht Aslani Architects of Seattle and constructed by Leone & Keeble, a Spokane construction firm.
Matt Swope, the project architect, and Becky Blankenship, the contractor, kept sustainability in mind from the start when they proposed moving construction to a new spot on campus.
WSU and the students leading the project intended to build it immediately adjacent the Consolidated Information Center on the college green.
Swope felt the smaller building would crowd the larger, existing building. The clients agreed to shift the project about a hundred feet to the east, placing in on a footpath and closer to the Columbia River.
The location offered a better view of the river and positioned it to better deal with the region’s fierce summer heat.
Swope and the design team created a bank of glass to capture the peekaboo river view. The banks of glass are shaded by an elegant canopy and provide visual contrast to the western facade, where narrow windows bunt the sun’s impact and help control demand on the air conditioning system.
Swope said high-efficiency heating and air conditioning help keep the energy bills down while low-flow fixtures cut water use. The construction is durable, but the design specified using materials that can be recycled when they’ve ended their useful life.
Blankenship, of Leone & Keeble, said she’s proud of the project and how well it has been embraced by students, who began using it in mid-August.
Construction began last year and wrapped up on time and under budget, even with the challenging winter weather, she said.
LEED and its cousins are commonly required for public buildings, where long-term energy and water savings tend to factor into decision-making. Columbia Basin College, for instance, embraced LEED about a decade ago and has developed several buildings to that standard. The remodel of its business building includes a real-time energy- and water-use monitor that provides instant feedback on the status of building systems.
Notable local examples include multiple buildings housing Hanford contractors and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, The ARC of the Tri-Cities, The Reach, most Gesa Credit Union locations, a Kennewick Starbucks outlet near Columbia Center and the Ben Franklin Transit administration building are all registered with the LEED program.
The city of Richland, which breaks ground on its new city hall next week, is not pursuing LEED for the 40,000-square-foot building, though officials say the design will incorporate high-efficiency elements.