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Volume 41. No. 2.
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Anatomy of the Green Building

As one of the most energy-efficient academic laboratories in the country, the new Richard C. Seaver Biology Building sets a new standard.

By Noah Buhayer '05

Three biology majors lean over a dissecting board in the new Richard C. Seaver Biology
Building.

Allison Moser ’06, Young Mi Kim ’05 and Amelia Huck ’06 have splayed an earthworm and
delicately extract a muscle for their experiment. The lab, part of Professor Jonathan
Wright’s Animal Physiology course, focuses on different types of musculature. The students
are studying one of the earthworm’s smooth muscles, a kind similar to the muscles that
control blood flow through human arteries. In the second part of the lab, the students
will study striated (or skeletal) muscles—those under voluntary control—by gently shocking
one of their forearms and recording the strength of the reaction on a computerized
plotting program.

The experiment runs smoothly in the new lab. Wright makes his rounds, fielding questions from students. The space is large. He can walk around and observe without bumping into cabinets or students. From his description, the old labs in Seaver South—a building constructed in the 1950s—sound claustrophobic. “The experiments we’re doing these days need more space and more flexibility. Biology has changed a lot in the last 50 years,” says Wright.

In the adjacent research lab, Alicia Godlove ’06, one of Wright’s thesis advisees, looks through a dissecting microscope. “I usually advise four student theses every year,” Wright explains. “In Seaver South, I had room for only two in the research lab. Now, there’s enough space for everyone.” The building’s 15 new research labs and four teaching labs will help other professors, too. This spring, more than 50 students are conducting research with biology faculty in areas ranging from plant physiology and genetics to molecular biology and neuroscience.

In addition to the extra lab space, the three-story, 46,270-square-foot building contains
two classrooms, four greenhouses, two lounges, faculty offices, sterilizer and glass
washing rooms, incubator rooms, darkrooms, walk-in cold (or warm) rooms, and sterile glass
transfer rooms. The $23.5 million project was funded, in large part, by a gift from the
estate of Frank R. Seaver 1905, as distributed by the Seaver Institute. The building’s
name honors Richard C. Seaver ’43, Frank’s nephew, who chaired the trustee’s Buildings
and Grounds Committee for more than two decades.

It’s early afternoon, just after two o’clock in Wright’s lab. A bright, Southern
California sun seeps in through the lab’s south-facing windows. There’s a whole bank of
them, extending from a waist-high countertop to the ceiling. With all the natural light,
it’s hard to believe that this is the building’s basement. The new facility’s energy- and
environmentally-conscious design focused on bringing natural light into classrooms and
offices, maximizing filtration with large windows, light shelves and a three-story glass
atrium. In the basement, this was achieved by sloping the landscape around the building’s
perimeter, so that daylight could reach the tall windows. The design works beautifully.
Specially angled blinds at the windows’ tops reduce glare. Sensors in the ceiling moderate
the lab’s fluorescent lights. Wherever natural light is strongest, the overhead lights are
dimmed, saving electricity.

Efficient lighting is just one of the new building’s eco-friendly design features. By fall, the facility will complete the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) silver certification. To achieve this, architects and builders had to satisfy a wide range of criteria from choosing a sustainable building site to maximizing water efficiency to recycling building materials. Features include a charging station for electric vehicles; elimination of CFCs and Halogen refrigerants (such as Freon) in the building’s cooling system; solar panels; low emitting adhesives, sealants, paints and carpet; and water-efficient California-friendly plants. The design
will save an estimated $75,000 per year in energy costs. Once the building is certified, it will become the first LEED building in Claremont, and one of the most energy-efficient academic laboratories in the country.

The certification process has not been easy, explains Tony Ichsan, assistant director of
Cam¬pus Planning and Maintenance and LEED-accredited professional. Aside from requiring
extensive documentation, certification requires that builders, architects and campus
planners overcome what Ichsan labels the “fear factor.” Since LEED standards have only
been around since the late-1990s, many contractors are unsure whether their practices and
materials conform to guidelines.

“The moment a contractor sees ‘LEED,’ he’s inclined to tack on an extra five percent to
his price, even though his practices and materials may already satisfy the standard,” says
Ichsan. On large and complicated projects, such as the new biology building, educating and
working with contractors was essential to keeping construction costs within the budget.
Ichsan believes the more LEED standards are embraced, the more comfortable builders will
become. “The easier it is for the contractor [to price], the better the client’s return on
investment,” he says.

Throughout the construction process, LEED certification and the building’s innovative
design attracted the attention of campus environmental groups. Claremont Leadership for
Environmental Action and Responsibility (CLEAR)—a group formed last fall by Amber Hallet
’05 and Richard Park, a student at CGU’s Drucker School of Management—believes the new
building is a positive step toward significant design changes at Pomona and The Claremont
Colleges.

“Look at what architecture is,” says Park. “It embodies ideas, the mindset, the vanguard of ideas. When you talk about LEED certification, you’re talking about a cleansing of all these past, gaudy ideas, and you’re going back to the essence of a functional building. But that functional building embodies the ideas of our time, our much more conscientious attitude toward the environment.” CLEAR, which has started to unify the many different environmental groups on campus, hopes that the new building will be both a model for sustainable design in Claremont and a physical reminder of the Colleges’ commitment to social responsibility.

Though Ichsan admits LEED certification is “project by project,” Pomona has already registered the two buildings to be constructed next year at 6th and College Way with the U.S. Green Building Council. Both Pitzer and Harvey Mudd followed suit by proposing their own LEED projects. “To take this [standard] and embrace it, incorporate it,” says Ichsan, referring to the Richard C. Seaver Biology Building, “definitely sets a tone.”
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