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Training center strives for LEED certification

By Staff | Apr 1, 2011

For about the past three years, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service National Conservation Training Center, outside of Shepherdstown, has been in the midst of changes to obtain LEED certification.

At the time the facility was built in the mid-1990s, LEED certification was not available.

Steve Chase, NCTC director of educational outreach who was on the design team for the center, said though sustainable architecture was on the minds of contractors during construction such as passive solar energy, the facility was not considered LEED certified. Upon opening in 1997, NCTC received an Energy Showcase Award from the Department of Energy.

“(It’s) not as much of an accomplishment compared to a LEED certification, but still a lot of people came here to see this place because it was built in such a sustainable fashion,” Chase said.

Some of the inherent sustainable features include a floor in the gymnasium made from recycled tires, toilets that were considered low-flow at the time and recycled materials for insulation and the exterior materials, among other things.

According to the U.S. Green Building Council’s website, existing structures looking for certification should look at “whole-building cleaning and maintenance issues …, recycling programs, exterior maintenance programs, and systems upgrades.”

Through $5 million of Recovery Act funds designated from the U.S. Congress, Chase said that the retrofitting of the buildings on campus is pricier and more difficult than building a LEED-certified facility from scratch.

“From the ground up you can design a building that is LEED Platinum, which is the highest certification. But for us to do a LEED Platinum building here, it’s not even practical,” he said.

Karin Christensen, chief director of facility operations at NCTC, said thus far the center has obtained 25 points. The lowest is a general certification, but Christensen said NCTC hopes to achieve silver certification of at least 40 to 47 points, according to the USGBC.

The center is making changes in technology such as upgrading its heating, ventilating and air conditioning unites as well as adding photovoltaic panels and making campuswide adjustments.

Christensen said NCTC exercises green practices on campus, such as using green-seal certified cleaning products, using more energy-efficient products – such as certain light bulbs and energy consumption. Christensen said the USGBC also takes into account recycling and air quality, which she said NCTC already does remarkably well in.

“It’s really important to our agency to lead by example,” said NCTC Director Jay Slack. “We basically want to do what we’re preaching that everyone else does – and that is be the most sustainable from a green standpoint that you possibly can be.”

Deputy Director Jim Willis said most of the retrofitting across campus is technology-driven.

“It was time and is time to do an upgrade and to do things that are more modern,” he said.

As far as what becoming LEED certified has been like for Christensen and Chase, they both look at the process positively.

“I believe it creates a tighter partnership between conservationists and facility engineers,” Christensen said.

“You need to evolve. You need to move forward,” Chase said. “And ensuring that we have the most energy efficient and livable buildings for our guests and for our staffs, we think, is a good thing.”