Piano Row building now Green Certified

by Beacon Staff • January 30, 2008

A four-inch binder sits on a desk in the Emerson College Construction Office, hundreds of pages thick, documenting Emerson's work to authenticate Piano Row as environmentally friendly. Earlier this month, the U.S. Green Building Council officially recognized those efforts by awarding the residence hall Green Certification under its Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design standards.

The dormitory earned 26 credits, the minimum for Green Certification, on a LEED-registered project check list that offers up to 69 credits in six categories of green building practices. Those categories are Sustainable Sites, Water Efficiency, Energy and Atmosphere, Materials and Resources, Indoor Environmental Quality and Innovation and Design Process. Certified buildings like Piano Row meet the lowest of four compliance levels, with Silver, Gold and Platinum representing the completion of more benchmarks.

John Walden, Construction Manager at Emerson College, said Emerson's Colonial building-scheduled to open in the fall of 2009-will be built with the hopes of earning Silver Certification, requiring the completion of 33 to 38 standards on the LEED checklist.

"We didn't expect Silver or Gold [on Piano Row]," he said. "We just wanted to get certified."

Walden said there are generally more opportunities to receive certification in the renovation of an existing building than in the construction of a brand-new building such as Piano Row.

The residence hall at 150 Boylston St. is one of only a few college or university facilities in Massachusetts to be recognized by the U.S. Green Building Council. It has also earned positive recognition from the city, which in the past few years has promoted or enforced green-building practices.

An amendment to the Boston zoning code passed in January 2007 requires that all city-funded facilities, as well as buildings more than 50,000 square feet, be up to LEED standards.

"We're thrilled to see Emerson College has built a green building and we encourage other institutions to follow their lead," said Sarah Zapharis, Policy Adviser to Mayor Thomas M. Menino and a member of the Boston Redevelopment Authority's Green Building Task Force.

Following Emerson's lean toward green are the unfinished School of Management building at Simmons College and Suffolk University's residence hall at 10 West St. According to officials at both schools, each building will be submitted for Silver Certification.

Emerson's planned Paramount facility in Downtown Crossing will be ineligible for any LEED certification because its fails to meet a prerequisite requiring smoking to be prohibited within 50 feet of the main entrance. Walden said the school could not enforce the same rule at the Paramount because much of the area around the entrance is public property.

Current residents of Piano Row who wish to smoke have to walk down the block.

Sophomore Dylan Joffe said she is fine with walking away from the entrance of the building to smoke and said she feels not adhering to the policy would be plain laziness.

"I love [the policy]," the political communications major said. "The more we can do for green buildings, the better."

Once building began, recycling was a key element of the construction, according to Chris Leary, a LEED-accredited professional who was the leader of the design team from national architectural and engineering firm KlingStubbins.

He said the George B. H. Macomber Company recycled 82 percent of its construction waste-1,250 tons of steel, plastic and other materials which would have otherwise been shipped to a landfill.

In designing the 14-story building, Leary said energy efficiency had to be balanced with quality of life.

"We could make a very energy efficient building if we just got rid of all those windows," he said. "You could just close it up and insulate the heck out of it."

By using fixtures such as low-flow shower heads and duel-flush toilets, Leary said the building cuts water use by 27 percent of the city's expectations, a figure he called "dramatic."

Michael Giardina, Piano Row's project designer from KlingStubbins, said such technology is widely available and added virtually no cost to the project.

To further conserve water, Leary said there is a 1,000 gallon tank on the roof that collects rain water for irrigation of plants as well as washing the side of the building.

Walden also estimated that the project received $100,000 in rebates from NStar, the Boston electrical company that provides much of the building's power. NStar recognized Piano Row's use of compact fluorescent light bulbs as well as high-efficient heating and cooling systems.

Sixty percent of the building's wood, including the basketball court, is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, a responsible logging advocacy group.

Despite the attention to detail, Walden said meeting the requirements wasn't easy.

"We'd send stuff in and they'd reject it because something was missing," he said. "So we'd go digging and we'd go digging, asking the vendor where the product was from."

In one instance, he said it came down to finding out if the concrete in the tile grout was mined within an acceptable radius of the building: it was.

"They were very fussy about things like that," he said.

For more information on Piano Row as a green building, visit www.earthemerson.org and click on "Photos/Videos."