Historic landmark, Bentley, to become LEED certified

As Allegheny College renovates its flagship Bentley Hall, the college is attempting to balance various considerations. One significant goal is achieving a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Silver certification from the U.S. Green Building Council. The council is a group of architectural firms and nonprofits dedicated to sustainable building practices, which they reinforce through their flagship initiative of LEED certification.

Executive Vice President Eileen Petula said LEED certification was part of the college’s climate commitment since the mid-2000’s, when former college president Richard Cook signed a set of climate-related goals for the college to meet by the year 2020. Petula said the standards were an important aspect for the college’s building plans overall.

“Sometimes we haven’t sought after LEED certification, but we build to LEED standards,” Petula said.

Among other aspects, the age of Bentley and the extent of the necessary renovations added difficulties to achieving the certification.

“It’s challenging, but doable overall,” Petula said.

Kelly Boulton, sustainability coordinator, said there are four levels of LEED certification: Certified, Silver, Gold and Platinum. The college intends to make any new projects meet the certification requirements for LEED Silver or higher.

“We are going to try and shoot for that with Bentley, with the understanding that if we can get more, we will go higher,” Boulton said. “And if it’s really tricky because of the historical nature, we’ll be satisfied with Certified.”

The Bentley renovations are not the first time Allegheny has worked to achieve LEED certification for its campus buildings.

“North Village Phase I was the first LEED-Certified building on campus,” Boulton said. “After we built that building, then we made the commitment that they would be Silver. North Village Phase II is Gold Certified, and then the renovation in Carr Hall is also Gold Certified.”

One way in which the college is working toward LEED certification for Bentley is by attempting to use geothermal heating and cooling in the building. Geothermal temperature control is a feature used in other campus buildings, such as both phases of North Village and the 454 House, which contains the Office of Admissions.

“That’s something that’s worked really well for us.” Boulton said. “It allows buildings to be air-conditioned and heated, but in a way that’s not super energy-intensive.”

Boulton said that one challenge of the LEED process was merging the modern, environmentally-conscious aspects which LEED incentivizes with the realities of a building over 200 years old.

“If we were to put a lot of insulation on the interior portion of the walls of Bentley, we could get more points,” Boulton said. “However, because of the construction of 200 years ago, you don’t want to do that because it would cause moisture buildup, and would not be as good for the structural integrity of the building. So we’re having to make a lot of informed choices about how do we balance the historic look of the building and the structural integrity with our desire to be as efficient — as sustainable — as possible.”

Cliff Willis, director of major capital projects, said LEED has existed since before he arrived at Allegheny in 2008, though the standards have been updated over time.

“Each time, it’s become a little more difficult — (USGBC requires) more to achieve the respective levels,” Willis said.

Willis said the renovations were designed with specific items in mind to attempt to maximize the certification potential throughout the building.

“For example, we’re using LED lighting throughout the building,” Willis said. “Our heating and cooling source will be geothermal. We’re replacing third-generation windows with much more energy-efficient windows.”

Other features the college will incorporate into Bentley are decreased light pollution and reduced water usage, according to Willis.

“So we’ll put aerators all in the faucets, we’ll have low-flow toilets and urinals, think things of that nature,” Willis said. “We will have to install water metering, specifically for Bentley, that tells us what water use we’re going to have. And then we have reporting requirements, we’re going to continue to do that.”

Willis said LEED certification impacted many parts of the renovation process, from design to construction to the actual operation of the building itself.

“We don’t want to just throw stuff away,” Willis said. “So everything we dispose of is weighed, and that record is kept. That gets submitted to the USGBC.”

Even when the construction is finished, the granting of LEED certification requires a few extra steps.

“One of the things that we do as part of the process when we’re done, we have a commissioning agent,” Willis said. “The commissioning agent will come in and evaluate, first of all, the equipment that was chosen for the project, but they will also observe how it’s operating to make sure that it’s operating properly and efficiently and controlled properly.”

Willis said the funding for many of the additional procedures came from private donations other than the initial challenge gift which the college had used to begin the renovation process.

“We’re taking some steps above and beyond the project specifically for LEED certification,” Willis said. “And the cost for those will be donated by outside donors.”

Willis also discussed trade-offs the college has been forced to make when attempting to get LEED certification for Bentley. For example, Willis said one typical concern for organizations attempting to achieve LEED certification was the cost of the requisite paperwork.

“What we have tried to do when we do capital work on campus is incorporate sustainable features as a matter of practice into our work,” Willis said. “So a lot of times, we’d rather take the cost of doing the documentation and put it into the building itself.”