Avon’s Walking Mountains school earns LEED status | VailDaily.com

Avon’s Walking Mountains school earns LEED status

Special to the Daily

AVON, Colorado – The Walking Mountains Science Center Thursday was acknowledged for the “sustainable” buildings on its campus. But creating those structures is more than a goal, it’s a commitment.

About the time the staff and board of the science school started planning in earnest for a new campus those people decided to seek “platinum” status – the highest available – in the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, program.

With that goal in mind, the people who designed and built the structures aimed high at a hard-to-hit target. Brian Sipes, who designed the Walking Mountains buildings, said the Green Building Council has set roughly 68 goals for those who want to build to platinum status.

Because the project was being built outside a city, “We knew right away we would never get eight of them,” Sipes said.

Another five were virtually impossible to achieve.

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That left the project with about 55 achievable goals, and 52 are required for LEED platinum status. The structure ended up achieving 53 of those goals.

Beyond design and construction, though, the Green Building Council requires an individual, group or business to operate a structure for some time before awarding a certificate. Walking Mountains’ many months of operations provided a good look into just how well the buildings really run.

The answer, by the way, is “very well, thanks.”

Just in energy use, Walking Mountains has far exceeded LEED requirements. Sipes said a platinum project must use 47.5 percent fewer fossil fuels than a conventional building. Walking Mountains is using 90 percent less natural gas and electricity than a similar-sized structure built to current building codes.

Beyond just energy use, Sipes said the LEED approach involves virtually every aspect of how a building is built and operated, including how much outdoor air circulates and how much natural light is available.

Usually, outdoor air has to be heated after it comes inside. At Walking Mountains, fresh air is heated by already-warm air that leaves the building.

It all sounds complicated – and it is – but Sipes said everything at Walking Mountains was built using existing, available technology. That means anyone looking for inspiration at Walking Mountains can find it. That includes the companies that built the center.

Walking Mountains Executive Director Markian Feduschak said 75 percent of the construction waste from the project was recycled. That has inspired R.A. Nelson and Associates, the general contractor on the project, to step up its recycling efforts on other projects.

“They told me, ‘We recycle all the time now,'” Feduschak said.

Sipes said the spirit of the project spread to virtually everyone working on it. Sipes said project supervisor Kevin Cooper regularly reminded the construction crews to “build it tight.”

That reminder worked. Sipes said he often saw even very small holes in the structure taped over, so the building would stay as tight as it could.

The project also inspired those who were working on it.

“We’d have subcontractors bring their kids to the site to see what they were doing,” Sipes said.

And it’s the students who visit and study at Walking Mountains who may have the biggest influence on future buildings and practices.

“If we didn’t design this to teach, we’d have failed,” Sipes said. “If we’ve done our jobs right, kids in 20 years will be doing things we can’t even dream of today.”

Business Editor Scott N. Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930 or smiller@vaildaily.com.

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