Students Help Fund ’Green’ Technology for Botanical Garden

Students at UNC have awarded $210,000 to help build a “green” visitor education center at the N.C. Botanical Garden.

The student-run Renewable Energy Special Projects Committee made the group’s largest award to date to help construct a geothermal well system as part of the center. A $4-per-semester student fee approved by students generated the funds.

“We wanted to demonstrate another type of renewable energy technology on our campus and encourage UNC to become a leader in green building,” said Nathan Poslusny ’06. Before graduating this month with highest honors and a bachelor’s degree in biology, Poslusny headed the Renewable Energy Special Projects Committee.

The geothermal well system is intended to significantly reduce the cost of heating and cooling the 29,000-square-foot Visitor Education Center. Geothermal wells act like a giant heat pump. Water circulates through deeply buried, sealed pipes, taking advantage of the Earth’s constant temperature of 55 degrees Fahrenheit to cool the building in summer and warm it in winter. With rising energy costs, experts say the geothermal wells will pay for themselves in less than nine years.

Other “green” features of the building will include photovoltaic panels that generate electricity from sunlight, rainwater cisterns and storm water “rain gardens,” clerestory windows that harvest controlled daylight and locally sourced, non-toxic construction materials.

Plans for the center reflect an increasing awareness of the need for sustainable design on the UNC campus, said Cindy Pollock Shea, director of UNC’s Sustainability Office.

“The botanical garden is leading UNC into an era of high-performance buildings that are environmentally responsible and reduce dependence on fossil fuels,” Shea said.

Planners predict that the Visitor Education Center will set a new performance standard for buildings in the state and region. Upon completion, the project will apply for Platinum LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification from the U.S. Green Building Council, the highest standard granted for sustainable buildings.

Designed by Frank Harmon Architect of Raleigh, the center will welcome and orient visitors and provide space for school classes and horticultural therapy activities as well as for interpretive exhibits and meeting space. It will be on state-owned land near the existing Totten Center, south of the Carolina campus off Old Mason Farm Road near the U.S. 15-501 bypass.

Along with the student donation, the building will be funded with private gifts. So far, more than $6.5 million in gifts and pledges has been raised.

“We hope the funding will be complete within the year and plan to break ground for the Visitor Education Center in April 2007,” said Peter White, director of the N.C. Botanical Garden.

UNC students voted to approve the fee that generated the $210,000 to fund the center’s geothermal well system. The fee, which took effect in August 2004, also has paid for the installation of a solar hot water system on top of the renovated Morrison Residence Hall and the premium for the first year of biodiesel fuel use in the campus Point-to-Point bus system.

The N.C. Botanical Garden is nationally known as a conservation garden. The staff manages more than 800 acres of land in the Chapel Hill area, including Battle Park, Forest Theatre, Mason Farm and the Coker Arboretum.

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