New Marshall Center, chance for better building

The construction of a new $55 million Phyllis P. Marshall Center will begin with the demolition of the Special Events Center in January 2006 and is being funded in part by the $20 Student Union Enhancement Flat Fee each student pays every semester.

USF students have already paid $5 million for this project. This seeming financial burden may give students a unique opportunity to influence the future of USF.

Because the students are paying, they should get to help decide what our new student union will look like, and more importantly, what it says about us, our values, and our vision. The new Marshall Center could be built with cutting-edge technology that improves the appearance of the building, lowers operating costs, increases the quality of student life, and helps protect the environment.

On the evening of April 11th USF students participated in an open forum with architects and administrators to hear plans for the new Marshall Center and to voice their ideas about needs and desires to be met by a new student union. Prior to this meeting and on the following day the same officials invited student groups met with them. The Oracle reported on these meetings in their April 13 article “A new Marshall in town.”

Because The Oracle was not present at the open forum for students, but rather at later meetings including representatives of invited student groups, the major message of the open meeting was overlooked.

The majority of students present at the meeting expressed interest in sustainable/green features encompassing everything from solar power to more bike racks. Energy and water efficiency, energy generation through solar cells, water recycling, integration of natural light and non-toxic building materials, built-in recycling facilities, native plant landscaping, and environmentally sustainable/locally available building materials were discussed.

People who spoke up about these potential environmentally conscious features were from a variety of majors and student groups. The architects were also in tune with this message and have past experience designing “green buildings.” I left the meeting feeling very encouraged that the new Marshall Center could be an attractive, innovative, money-saving and environmentally-friendly building that will attract forward-thinking people, ideas and funding to USF.

Since that meeting I have helped circulate a petition (now with more than 100 signatures) to endorse the construction of an environmentally sustainable new student union, which has met with almost universal approval and enthusiasm.

Why would the students and the administration of the university not want to build a comfortable, healthy, and energy-efficient new Marshall Center? Initial cost is usually the primary consideration cited by those hesitant about green buildings. Sometimes (not always) these types of projects cost more at the outset, but the same could be said for any high quality item that will be more durable over time. Morally, this type of technology is the right thing to do and will prove to be economically advantageous for years to come because of long-term durability and the savings from decreased energy and water use every day. For example, at the University of South Carolina, West Quad Residence Hall was built at the cost of a conventional residence hall and is larger than previous building but costs 45 percent less to run. This is remarkable, a building that costs the same to build, but costs less to use. In Tampa, the architects’ goal is to “provide USF with the most flexible building that maximizes energy efficiency,” according to Lynne Deninger AIA, Associate and LEED Accredited Professional of Sasaki Associates, one of two architectural firms hired for the construction of the new Marshall Center.

Green design aspects that might be incorporated are “solar optimization both for heat gain and daylighting, correct sizing the mechanical systems within the appropriate comfort zones for the inhabitants, designing the building envelope to reflect as much heat as possible to reduce cooling loads, preserving water when possible with low-flow fixtures and landscaping with native plantings, choosing local, recycled and/or low maintenance materials whenever economically possible,” Deninger said in an unofficial e-mail.

Green design aspects are becoming more common in ordinary building projects, but few projects seek to be leaders with regard to the extent of innovations. USC is only the third university in the country with a complex that will qualify for LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification by the U.S. Green Building Council.

After all the work is completed on our new student union, will it stand out among similar buildings at other universities? Despite the cost and paperwork hassles of the certification process, I feel that by striving for LEED certification, the efforts of the architects and vision of the students will be formally recognized, increase the value of the building and make it more likely to be used as an example. Having a LEED-certified student center could boost USF’s reputation and status among universities and possibly attract future funding and high-quality students.

The week of May 16th the architects will begin their first “worksession” on campus where they will look at the sitting and general layout of the building, which will be the most important step in developing a sustainable project. Before this meeting, students and student groups should express their desire and/or specific ideas for a green building to the administration.

A green Marshall Center could be a turning point for our campus, sending the message to current students prospective students, and the world that we are a top-rate university with innovative facilities and the awareness that sustainability is a requirement for our future.

Laura Bedinger is a biology Ph.D. student.