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Cutler Completes Science Center at Mount Holyoke College

Wed November 17, 2004 - Northeast Edition

Cutler Associates has completed construction of one of the country’s first LEED-certified science centers. Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, MA, owner of the Science Center, was recently notified of the distinction by the U.S. Green Building Council, which oversees the LEED program.

The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program recognizes commitment to sustainable design and construction. Certification is based on the ability of a project to meet high performance standards and achieve a requisite number of points through the LEED rating system. Rigorous documentation, complied throughout Mount Holyoke College’s Science Center project by Cutler Associates, architect Einhorn Yaffee Prescott, subcontractors and the college, provided evidence of sustainable features in the building.

The Cutler team focused on site location and development, water use, energy, materials use and indoor environmental quality. For example, one LEED guideline required that a portion of the building materials be manufactured within a 50-mi. radius of the site to minimize the environmental impact of truck exhaust fumes.

Twenty-six percent of all materials used in the Mount Holyoke project were manufactured locally. The destination of more than 50 percent of the construction debris that was collected, sorted and removed was documented to prove it never entered the waste stream.

Structural steel for the project contained 90-percent recycled content. The lumber for the laboratory casework was Forest Stewardship Council Certified. In total, 63 percent of all wood and wood products came from renewable forests.

Another key factor in LEED certification was in the sustainability of the mechanical systems. The entire building air conditioning system makes use of CFC-free refrigerants. The 750-ton chilled-water-cooled centrifugal chiller and 850-ton cooling tower provide chilled water for the entire science center and in an expandable plant that can service additional buildings on the campus.

Commissioning of the systems started at the beginning of the project and continued throughout, including individual startup and checkout forms completed for every piece of equipment. Indoor air quality was maintained by differential space pressurization to prevent dust and odors from migrating out of the work zones. With the return section of the air handlers disabled and the return ductwork sealed, the air handlers supplied 100 percent outside air to the building, providing a continuous supply of fresh air.

The impetus for seeking LEED certification came from a benefactor whose substantial donation to the college came with the stipulation that it be used for a LEED-certified science center. However, compliance with the LEED program echoes Mount Holyoke’s philosophical commitment to environmentally responsible policies and practices.

The new Science Center provides the campus with 116,000-sq.-ft. of newly constructed and renovated science and laboratory space. A new four-story, 40,000-sq.-ft. building links three previously existing science buildings.

Although structurally sound, the existing science buildings were out of date and past their technological prime. The 50-year-old buildings were completely redesigned and renovated as modern research and teaching facilities with new mechanical and electrical systems that met the stringent LEED specifications. The center houses the departments of astronomy, chemistry, biological sciences, biochemistry, mathematics and statistics, physics, computer science and earth and environmental studies.