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Sustainable Development Strategies

The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston School of Nursing and Student Community Center

SONSCC’s central stair at its east façade and the breezeway that provides entry and a connection with Fay Park.From 1998 – 2002, Earthly Ideas served as sustainability consultant to Jacobs Engineering, the Construction Manager at Risk in a joint venture with Vaughn Construction (Jacobs/Vaughn), on the University of Texas Health Science Center (UTHSC) at Houston School of Nursing and Student Community Center (SONSCC) project. The multi-phase project consisted of renovating space for the Human Genetics Center, which needed relocation from the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences (GSBS); deconstruction of GSBS, a 37,368 square foot building built in 1974; and phased construction of the 195,160 square foot SONSCC. Renovation was completed between June 2000 and February 2001, deconstruction was completed between May 2001 and September 2001, and construction of SONSCC was completed in June 2004.

In addition to advising and educating Jacobs/Vaughn staff, Earthly Ideas assisted in establishing and incorporating sustainability goals into project documents, researched sustainable materials and deconstruction options, developed construction waste management specifications, reviewed waste management plans, and supported development of the education strategy for the project’s contractors and suppliers.

Scrap metal from the GSBS’s deconstruction is loaded Demolition is the accepted practice – especially in Texas, where landfill costs are very low and land is cheap. But UTHSC, a proponent of The Natural Step program, wanted to do more than just design a new sustainable building - it also wanted to ensure that removing the old building wouldn’t create a negative impact on the environment. It began working with the design and construction team to investigate how the old building could be “deconstructed,” generating the least amount of waste possible and maximizing the salvage of material being removed from the project.

At first the university’s goal was to have no materials landfilled, but the team quickly found this goal to be impossible. With Earthly Ideas’ input, the team created drawings, wrote specifications and developed guidelines, and a more realistic goal was set to recycle/reuse at least 70% of the total building. Out of a total of 6,162 tons, 4,753 tons of material (77%) were salvaged from the destruction of the GSBS. These materials included asphalt, concrete, wood, site debris, masonry, scrap metal, furniture, fixtures and equipment, metal casework, and a canopy and skylight. One thousand square yards of carpet were returned to DuPont, 14.3 tons of ceiling tile were returned to Armstrong, and 53,000 bricks were stockpiled at the Urban Ecology Research Park for later use.

The SONSCC building has received a record eight American Institute of Architects (AIA) awards including being one of the AIA Committee on the Environment (COTE) Top Ten Projects in 2006. The project earned Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED®) certification in 2009 to the Gold level. Earthly Ideas’ early input laid the groundwork for the sustainable successes of the project.

SONSCC’s west facade with sun shading and lightshelves Goals for the SONSCC Building

  • To endure for more than 100 years, therefore facilitating adapted reuse.
  • To uplift the spirit of dwellers with interior spaces that capitalize on daylighting, radiate simple elegance, reflect timeless design, and are welcoming and comfortable.
  • To respect its surroundings and thus create an academic climate that inspires creativity, collaboration, collegiality, and learning.
  • To minimize the negative effect of the structure on its natural site.
  • To contain the best workmanship by partnering with companies that use only proven, state-of-the-art equipment and materials.
  • To sustain economic efficiencies by mandating that utility costs be 70% less than the UT-Houston School of Public Health (a comparably sized and purposed building); and, concurrently, targeting actual construction costs not to exceed 105% of the cost of a conventionally constructed building.
  • To incorporate all natural opportunities presented by the physical site and to design economy into long-term maintenance and operational costs.
  • To extol the indigenous environment by landscaping exterior spaces with plants and trees that are natural to the Houston area, and take minimal care, chemicals, and water.
  • To focus on non-toxic materials and to take advantage of renewable energy sources wherever health and economy are issues. To arrive at these decisions, life cycle costing will be applied (end use, least cost assumptions).
  • To use natural, recycled, and reclaimed materials from sources and manufacturers in Texas to the fullest extent possible.
  • To incorporate into our infrastructure systems that ensure efficient use of resources and drive recycling.