Efficient UC Merced building could be boon for engineering

06/24/2014 8:12 PM

06/24/2014 9:31 PM

UC Merced’s newest building will showcase the latest energy- and water-saving technologies when it opens to students in the fall and could figure into the university’s engineering advancements, school officials said.

Upon completion, the $88 million Science and Engineering 2 building could earn a platinum LEED green-building certification, the highest rating certified on the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design ratings system. It is set to open to students in late August.

Mark Maxwell, the university’s assistant director of construction and sustainability, said contractors are using a number of methods to be energy- and water-efficient and are using recycled building materials.

The 102,000-square-foot building includes four teaching labs, a study room, 12 workstations for faculty and staff, and 75 faculty offices. The design of the building is expected to cut energy use by 39 percent compared with other structures of the same size in the state, Maxwell said – an energy savings of about $170,000 a year.

The three-story structure’s roof is fitted with 52-kilowatt photovoltaic solar panels and is coated with a white membrane that reflects light and keeps the building cool. Windows are glazed with a coating that reduces direct sunlight’s ability to heat the building while providing natural lighting for those inside. Contractors also use a computer program to know the best placement for shades on the outside of the building, Maxwell said, which will keep the energy bill down.

Materials inside the building are made of recycled components where possible, Maxwell said. Ceiling tiles are made of about 77 percent recycled newspapers and phone books, carpet is 40 percent recycled soda bottles and insulation is 90 percent recycled rock and blast furnace slag.

More than 90 percent of castoff construction materials will be diverted from the landfill, Maxwell said. The wood becomes mulch; the drywall, a fertilizer; and metal is melted down for reuse.

Engineering major is popular

The majority of UC Merced students in 2013 were studying in the science, technology, engineering and math fields.

Dan Hirleman, dean of UC Merced’s School of Engineering, said engineering majors in particular remain popular at the university. The field is high-paying and its popularity is perhaps buoyed by the university’s demographics: 62 percent are first-generation college students.

The university has purposely slowed its growth to give the buildings time to catch up, though applications for enrollment continue to rise each year.

The new building’s first floor will mostly house laboratories, which are set up for students to work in teams of four. The basement has also been designed to regulate temperature changes and reduce vibration, Hirleman said, setting up the ideal space for sensitive atomic force microscopes. “We’ll be able to pull together the instruments into a world-class facility,” he said.

The university is making moves to improve collaboration among differing disciplines, Hirleman said. That could facilitate advances in connected areas of research, like water’s relationship to food and alternate energy sources. “The Valley is a living lab for the study of how those things are interacting,” he said.

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