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Renovated MU strikes gold with LEED certification

November 10, 2009

A disastrous fire has turned into gold, as the renovated Memorial Union at Arizona State University has just been awarded a LEED Gold certification from the U.S. Green Building Council, for its environmentally sustainable construction.

A fire in a second floor storage area in November 2007 caused extensive fire and smoke damage, shutting down the lower levels of the building for 60 days and the second and third floors until the following August.

ASU decided after the unfortunate incident not to simply rebuild the damaged areas of the 54-year-old building but to meet or exceed the standards of quality and sustainability used in ASU’s newest buildings. The initial goal was to achieve a LEED Silver rating.

The project was of key importance, as the Memorial Union is the center of student life on the Tempe campus and the "front door" for many visitors. Nearly 30,000 guests pass through its doors each day. The university hired the architecture firm Studio Ma, Inc. and CORE Construction to design and carry out the 92,000 square-foot renovation, which was accomplished over a period of five months.

"The Memorial Union renovation project transforms an outdated but historic 1950’s era building into a state-of-the-art facility showcasing innovative green building technologies and local, regional and recycled green building materials," says Larry Sorenson, senior architect and project manager with ASU’s Capital Programs Management Group.

"It is a benchmark for adaptive and sustainable building design, becoming the first LEED certified renovation project at ASU. The attainment of LEED Gold certification is a testament to ASU’s ongoing commitment to sustainability."

LEED Gold certification highlights for the project include the following:

• The use of regional and recycled materials, including local sandstone and mesquite and reclaimed metal finishes, minimizes the project's embodied energy and supports local industry.

• Individual lighting control systems comprised of continuous dimming ballasts and environmental sensors combine to provide energy savings of 40-70% while reducing maintenance costs.

• A comprehensive network of real-time monitoring and trending sensors communicates the building's environmental variables (temperature, fresh air, humidity, alarm and fire) to the university's central facilities, to maximize occupant comfort, energy efficiency and safety.

• The use of special recessed lighting fixtures and efficient fixture layouts reduce the light power density by 25%, maximizing energy savings while resulting brighter, seemingly larger and more relaxing public spaces.

• 95% (1,128 tons) of construction waste was diverted from landfills and recycled.

• Interior materials (stone and aluminum wall finishes, paints, adhesives, sealants, carpets, casework and systems furniture) containing zero volatile organic compounds provide improved air quality and durability.

• Comprehensive recycling and green cleaning programs are used by the MU in day to day operations, to minimize ongoing environmental impacts.

• A portion of the ASU’s solar-generated power is dedicated to the MU.

• A viable and sustained public transportation network serves the facility.

"ASU would like to acknowledge Studio Ma and the other dedicated local professionals who together are responsible for the design and unique character of the completed facility," says Sorenson.

"We would especially like to thank CORE Construction, which brought together experts from their nationwide corporate offices to initially plan this undertaking. Using local construction subcontractors and tradesmen numbering in the thousands, they were able to complete the renovation in an astonishing 102 calendar days. Lastly, they returned significant funds to ASU upon completion."

About $40 million for the project came from insurance reimbursements and $13 million was paid from bond money for upgrades planned before the fire.

"The Memorial Union fire was devastating to the ASU community and to our operation, but an amazing group of dedicated individuals came together to rebuild and create this wonderful transformation." says Kellie Lowe, MU director. "We are all very happy with the new facility. It is a proud showcase for the students, faculty and staff of ASU."

According to Jim Jacobs, president of CORE, most of the company’s project leaders were LEED accredited. Their specialized knowledge in sustainable building allowed team members to carefully plan all materials and practices before any construction was begun.

"CORE Construction acknowledges the long term value of sustainable construction and admires ASU for being a leader in this movement," says Jacobs. "As a leading contractor for the state, CORE carries with it environmental responsibility, not only from a corporate stand point, but also from each individual employee."

Other local firms that worked on the design of the project include Rudow + Berry Structural Engineers, Woodward Electrical Engineering, Convergent Technologies Audio Visual Engineers, ICDS Mechanical Plumbing and Fire Protection Engineers, R.J. Gahn Mechanical Plumbing and Fire Protection Engineers, Rolf Jensen & Associates, Inc., GrEn Consultants, Green Ideas LEED Certification Specialists and Roger Smith Lighting Design.