MJC net-zero building saves energy, money


net zeroMODESTO — When it was time for Yosemite Community College District to replace its World War II-era Central Services building, designers opted for a state-of-the-art energy efficient facility.

The new building, which houses central offices for Modesto Junior College and Columbia College, is at 2201 Blue Gum Avenue in Modesto. Departments once spread over three buildings are now under one roof. Workers moved in last fall.

“I came into the building when we first moved in, and I can tell you personally it’s really fantastic being in here,” said District Public Affairs Director Coni Chavez. “The operational efficiency of being able to work with folks and just be closer to them in the building has been helpful to me.”

The facility’s chief selling point is that it’s a net zero energy building, which means it produces at least as much energy as it consumes.

It’s good for the environment, but the district’s main consideration was financial. The $21 million facility was built with Measure E funds, a $326.1 million bond approved by voters in 2004 for Yosemite Community College District improvements.

“We have been excellent stewards of our Measure E funds,” said Facilities Planning and Operations Director Judy Lanchester. “In building a net zero building, there is enormous cost savings over the life of the building.”

The district hired Modesto construction management company, Kitchell, to oversee the construction of the building, while Darden Architects of Fresno was hired to design it. At the recent Central Valley Facilities Expo, representatives from Kitchell and Darden spoke about the building and some of its features.

The building’s breakroom has a cork floor made from the bark of the trees. It grows back every nine years, so no trees were killed. The cork floor also cuts down on foot traffic noise.

The building has an air-cleaning ceiling, which is expected to reduce formaldehyde concentration by 90 percent in the first year.

The building was designed to decrease the lighting load as much as possible. Daylighting and skylights were used throughout the building to cut down on electricity consumption. All rooms have an occupancy sensor in them, so the lights turn off automatically when the room isn’t being occupied.

All light use LED bulbs, which are more expensive initially but save money over time because they use less electricity and rarely need to be replaced.

Air conditioning is also energy efficient. The building has a chilled beam system, which uses pipes that carry hot or cold water to heat or cool the building. Air ducts near the pipes circulate the hot or cold air.

The roof is a cool roof, which is light in color. That reduces the amount of heat that penetrates the roof and goes into the building.

Outdoor sensors on the roof that detect when it’s best to open the windows and use the wind to cool down the building. The fresh air operable windows show a green light when windows should be opened and a red light when they should stay closed.

The building’s lower windows can open and close at the occupant’s discretion, while the upper windows open and close automatically based on the outdoor sensor.

While some of those features cost more money than a traditional building, they will save the district money over time.

Lighting and air conditioning loads are typically two of the most expensive systems. But as Kitchell’s Senior Project Manager Matt Kennedy explained, a cost-benefit analysis can determine whether it’s worth the investment.

“You take two ideas, look at the upfront cost and the cost over time, and then you make the evaluation,” said Kennedy. “So you do that, but you do it in pieces. You look at building systems. LED lighting now is expensive, but for the energy savings, in the long term it’s very economical.”

Perhaps the most important component of the building is its solar array. The system produces 462,000 kilowatts annually, which is enough solar to power 40.5 homes for a year.

The solar array produces more energy than the building uses, so other buildings on the campus use the excess energy. That surplus of electricity from the solar array is key to getting to net zero.

“You can’t get to net zero without producing something,” said Kjirsten Harpain of Darden Architects. “You can only get your usage down so low.”

Not only is the building a financial boon for the district, it’s also receiving favorable feedback from employees. A survey found the daylighting, in particular, was a popular feature.


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