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Vanderbilt University goes for the gold and wins for ‘green’ building efforts

Posted by on Monday, June 16, 2008 in Green Building, News.

Vanderbilt University goes for the gold and wins for 'green' building efforts

Vanderbilt University is the first university in the state to receive Gold level certification for its environmentally friendly construction from the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System.

Vanderbilt earned the recognition for The Commons Center, which is part of the university’s new community for first-year students, The Commons Center opened in August 2007. The center is also the first gold-certified building in Nashville.

In The Commons, first-year students will live in a smaller community within the larger campus where they will be next-door neighbors with faculty and the dean of The Commons. The Commons Center, which serves as a dining facility and community square, is a place to dine, study and hear live performances. It also includes a fitness facility and other services.

LEED is the nationally accepted benchmark for the design, construction and operation of high performance green buildings. Organizations must apply for the certification which is recognized nationwide as proof that a building is environmentally responsible, profitable and a healthy place to live and work.

Vanderbilt’s application for and achievement of LEED certification was a partnership between the university’s administration and its students. Vanderbilt student organization SPEAR (Students Promoting Environmental Awareness and Recycling) was the impetus behind the university’s applying for LEED certification.

“LEED certification of buildings reduce as much as possible the negative impact on the environment while providing an increased quality of life for occupants” Keith Loiseau, a LEED-accredited architect at the university and project manager for The Commons Center, said.

The Commons Center is 28 percent more energy efficient than a typical building of its type. Environmentally friendly features and practices at the center include hood exhaust systems in the kitchen that increase efficiency by more than 30 percent. The building will also save an estimated 900,000 gallons of water per year through the use of waterless urinals, dual-flush toilets and low-flow fixtures. Special materials, paints and adhesives were selected for healthy indoor air quality.

Students with SPEAR and Vanderbilt student group WilSkills, which provides students with academic study and practical experience in the wilderness, are responsible for their own green initiatives at The Commons Center. Through a proposal by SPEAR, food prep waste from the dining facility is composted behind the center as a means of educating the campus community about the benefits of composting. Educational signs are posted at the site and the compost is used to augment fertilization of Vanderbilt’s flower beds.

The WilSkills group runs the Vanderbilt Biodiesel Initiative, which uses waste cooking oil from The Commons Center to create biodiesel fuel that is used in the university’s groundskeeping vehicles and tractors.

When the Hill Center, the old dining facility, was torn down in order to build The Commons Center, nearly 75 percent of the materials were salvaged, recycled or sold.

Sandstone pavers from the Hill Center was used in the patios of the new Commons Center and 150 tons of limestone excavated from The Commons construction site was used to create the landscape sculpture Star Chamber at the university’s Dyer Observatory.

Also, old oak chairs from the university’s libraries were reused for seating in the Dining Center.

An educational kiosk – “The Green Screen” – in the lobby of The Commons Center gives members of the Vanderbilt and Nashville communities an opportunity to learn about the green features of the building and the entire Commons community. There is signage throughout the building with information about the green features, as well as a brochure and a tour that is available for download onto an iPod or MP3 player.

Only one other Tennessee organization has Gold level LEED certification – a research facility at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Vanderbilt earned Silver level certification last year for Crawford and Sutherland houses, two new residence halls built as part of The Commons.
Cambridge, Mass.-based Bruner/Cott is the architectural firm for The Commons Center and Nashville firm Smith Seckman Reid served as the engineers and LEED consultants for the building.

For more details about sustainability efforts at Vanderbilt, visit SustainVU at

Contact: Princine Lewis, 615-322-NEWS


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