Size & Type of Project:
29.44 acres, Governmental Complex
Former Land Use:
Temperate Grasslands, Savannas & Shrublands
The Energy Department’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) puts their mission into practice by constructing high performance buildings and infrastructure that showcase clean energy technologies, renewable and recycled materials, water conservation, environmental stewardship, and waste reduction. Another aspect of their mission is fostering employee behavior change towards sustainable living.
NREL’s 327-acre South Table Mountain campus currently includes 17 buildings, which house offices, laboratories, test facilities, and more than 2,447 workers. The vision for the sustainable campus is documented in their master plan and implemented through utilizing high performance sustainable building requirements. NREL’s sustainable campus is also achieved via:
Habitat Protection: NREL’s 175-acre conservation easement protects native habitats and provides access to hiking trails for staff and community members.
Low Impact Development: NREL incorporates low impact development techniques that establish natural drainage for stormwater and minimize impacts on local habitats.
Smart Growth: Build-out strategies promote walkability and interaction on campus. The Smart-Growth inspired campus concept encourages staff to adopt alternative commuting options by providing all employees with free mass transit passes, access to 36 electric charging stations, and preferred parking for “smart green vehicles” and carpools.
The Research Support Facility (RSF) is one of the newest campus additions. Construction was completed in October 2011 for the 30-acre site and 361,000 square-foot LEED® Platinum facility housing 1325 employees. Its rooftop photovoltaic array offsets its annual energy use, making this a net-zero facility. Project scope also included integrated campus transit, pedestrian LED site lighting, regional storm water management, prairie restoration, and expanded campus utilities.
NREL’s South Table Mountain (STM) campus is located near Golden, Colorado. The campus lies at the base of STM with its pristine hillsides, rock outcroppings and arroyo drainages.
The altitude of the NREL STM site varies between 5750 and 6050 feet above sea level. The site is in the “foothills life zone,” a transitional region between the grasslands of the plains life zone and the higher, tree-dominated montane life zone of the Rocky Mountains. With its location near the foothills, the weather conditions impact facility designs and maintenance considerations due to the climate changes, snow loads, and high winds.
The site soils consist mostly of bedrock on the mesa top and mostly clay loam and cobbly clay loam in the areas where most of the development has occurred. Vegetation on the campus consists of a mixture of grasslands, shrub lands, and a very small amount of wetlands.
Prevailing winds are from the south direction all year round with weak intensity and long duration. Annual precipitation ranges from 12 to 18 inches per year. The region is also prone to long periods of drought. In summer, this arid climate reaches an average high temperature of 89 degrees. January, the coldest month, has an average high temperature of 44 degrees and an average low of 13 degrees. The optimal building orientation in this climate lies within 5 degrees of the true east-west axis in order to gain the greatest advantage for solar access and daylighting.
Site materials also contributed to the project's sustainability goals. Salvaged bedrock excavated from the site was used to build retaining walls, and also related cultural history of utilizing the land's resources. Bus shelters and parking garage stairwells incorporated etched and striped glass to reduce bird injury and mortality from in-flight collisions with exterior structures. Porous pavers adjacent to the perimeter of the RSF and roadways provided exceptional performance for reducing peak flows during stormwater events and increased infiltration to enhance water quality. Their light color also assisted in reducing heat gain. These paving materials provided an aesthetic textural quality creating inviting courtyard spaces and pedestrian walkways.
NREL utilized integrated project teams (IPT) for review and decision making. The emphasis and structure of the IPT is on the involvement of all stakeholders (users, technical experts, management, and contractors) in a collaborative forum. The gathering of a multi-disciplinary group demonstrated effective project results because involvement began in the early stage of development. This process also benchmarks a critical need in that project expectations, roles, and actions were defined within a set time period. The breadth of technical expertise produced a focused, collaborative effort to enable the integration of each project feature generating a more a holistic result.
As a Department of Energy national laboratory, NREL meets environmental and energy-related requirements that foster the sustainability of NREL's campus. The implementation of long-term maintenance strategies is achieved through staff upholding and executing established laboratory sustainability and environmental policies and procedures, identified performance strategies and targets in NREL's Site Sustainability Plan, and the commitment of executive management sponsorship.
NREL has executed a Landscape Maintenance procedure for all campus landscape maintenance, including scope, roles and responsibilities, procedures, and monitoring. the pupose of the NREL Landscape Maintenance Procedure is to:
NREL also continues to coordinate with appropriate local and regional planning organizations and government agencies to improve land use, transportation, growth, and sustainability within the community. All campus projects integrate physical boundaries, connect to transportation and utility systems, and protect ecosystems and open space. All of these elements have linkages that forge strong community, neighbor, and user relationships.
Continued monitoring will also take place to provide long-term measurements for SITES and other practitioners for the following credits:
NREL strives to operate and research in the most sustainable manner possible. All project pursuits are guided to minimize the impact of doing business by balancing environmental, economic, and social resources. NREL’s “living laboratory” approach has established an environment for landscape, infrastructure, and building research that allows the continuing evaluation and improvement of design approaches and technologies that facilitate their transfer to the marketplace.
The facility also seeks out mutually beneficial partnerships that allow performance standards to be developed and deployed to the marketplace with the desire to help shape performance benchmarks through testing their most energy efficient building and site to date. This federal project is dedicated to setting standards for sustainable landscapes and high efficiency buildings and the SITES criteria will be rigorously tested against NREL standards. The performance benchmarks will in turn provide guidance to NREL allowing for long-term maintenance and operations goals to be met.
NREL’s assemblage of project elements forged a dynamic fusion of natural systems and the built world. Each sustainable feature did not function in isolation but emphasized a mutually beneficial relationship. These project results delivered optimized performance, enjoyable surroundings, and a foundation for sustained environmental health and longevity.
As the facility moves forward with other construction projects, gathering more documentation of existing site conditions to use as a baseline will be integrated into standard practices.
Transitioning the project from construction completion to owner maintained was another challenge that became a lesson learned.