Sustainable Northwest Science Quad construction on schedule

An overhead view of the proposed Science 1 complex. It will be on the north side of campus, and be a general building for STEM study and sustainability research. Photo courtesy of University Planning, Design and Construction website.

The Northwest Science Quad currently under construction is on track to be unveiled for the fall 2022 semester, Michael Schrier, Storrs campus architect and director of design and STEM projects for University Planning, Design and Construction, said in a Zoom interview. 

The site is located between King Hill Road, Hillside Road and Alumni Drive. Seen by project contributors as an example of sustainable development, the 15-acre Northwest Science Quad has been under construction since 2020. According to Schrier, the new construction will be a “real centerpiece” of the University of Connecticut’s campus and its sustainability goals. 

The Quad includes a 198,000 gross square foot science facility (Science 1), a Supplemental Utility Plant (SUP) and a 175-car parking lot. 

“More than half of the site was previously developed as parking lots,” according to the 2020 UConn Today article, “Construction Kicks Off on UConn’s Transformational New Science Quad.” 

Science 1 is certified Gold for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Protection (LEED), joining the Student Recreation Center, Werth Tower and Oak and McHugh Halls as UConn’s fifth LEED Gold-certified building, according to the Office of Sustainability. 

The building’s 520-kilowatt photovoltaic array provides 14% of its energy, attaining the rest from UConn’s cogeneration facility, the Central Utility Plant (CUP), according to Schrier. 

The CUP “reduces CO2 (greenhouse gas) emissions by an estimated 30,000 tons each year versus emissions from fossil-fueled power plants serving the regional electric grid,” according to UConn Facilities. 

The role of the SUP is to connect Science 1 to the CUP, improve its electricity distribution system and support its utility use including steam, water, electricity and emergency power, according to Schrier. 

Mike Dietz, professor of natural resources, said in an interview that he “weighed in on [the advanced sustainability of the project] very early on.” His academic focus is on stormwater management, as UConn is ill-prepared for storms that will likely gain in intensity as the planet warms. 

“Getting rid of the sea of parking has a really big benefit,” Dietz said regarding the new site’s stormwater management infrastructure. 

Before the construction of Science 1, the parking lots of the area left 13.8 acres of effective impervious area, according to Dietz. He said the design of this building includes landscaping that reduces the inaccessible area by at least 2.2 acres by use of pervious pavement, low-mow areas and five bioretention areas, including indigenous shade trees. 

A picture of the construction of the Northwest Science Complex, taken from the top of the North Garage. The construction is scheduled to be done for the fall 2022 semester. Photo by Alex Leo/The Daily Campus.

While the construction may be an uneasy sight, “over the long haul, [it’s a] super efficient building with sustainable materials, [and] net benefits to heat and cooling,” Dietz said. 

Additionally, the site is built with locally sourced gravel, recycled steel and Forest Stewardship Council sustainable certified wood, according to Schrier. 

While project managers praise the Northwest Science Quad’s sustainability features, some students are concerned about the effectiveness of this kind of sustainable development. Michio Agresta, a fifth-semester natural resources major, said in a phone interview he feels UConn should address sustainability before focusing on additional construction projects-. 

“I do see the merit in increasing science education, but as a massive public research institution I find it irresponsible to use LEED to attract new students, invest in further development and increase our energy demands when we can’t even fulfill international sustainability requirements to fight climate change,” Agresta said, historian and treasurer of UConn Collaborative Organizing and president of UConn’s Fridays for Future branch. 

The international sustainability requirements are the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports, which state that net-zero carbon by 2040 results in higher probability of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. This is the threshold the IPCC outlines to prevent the most significant effects of climate change. 

While still relying on fossil fuels to meet the increased intensity of energy demands by the Northwest Science Quad, it is designed to increase energy efficiency in many ways. LED lighting, high performance energy movement, heat recycling and air handling strategies that recover waste heat all reduce the building’s carbon emissions, according to Schrier. 

The site also includes bike racks, electric vehicle charging stations and open space to improve UConn’s sustainable transportation. Dietz said he hopes the space is useful for students while also serving as an environmental positive. 

“I hope that it performs [like] we think it’s going to, that it meets our expectations and becomes a nice space for students to use here on campus as a positive environmental benefit, and carries us into the future,” Dietz said. 

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