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BU’s New Green House

Eco-friendly apartment renovation under way

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Front view of 85-87 St. Mary’s Street. Photos by Michael Hamilton

On a recent October morning, a milky haze of dust enveloped men in hard hats as they yanked nails from the basement rafters of 85-87 St. Mary’s Street. They began gutting the complex—home to BU faculty and staff—in late summer, removing all appliances, tearing up flooring, and stripping walls and ceilings down to studs and rafters.

But what makes this construction site different from most is the effort workers are taking to carefully collect, remove, and document each pile of debris as it leaves the building. The painstaking sorting and paperwork are a necessity in this case, because BU plans to make the complex its first housing site certified under the internationally recognized grading system LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), created by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC).

The University has included some green features in other housing projects, but to qualify for LEED certification, buildings must have lower operating costs, conserve energy and water, and be healthier and safer for occupants than standard construction.

University officials say that meeting LEED certification standards now will pay off in the future. “LEED represents good long-term design standards and operating practices,” says Gary Nicksa, vice president for operations.

The $3.5 million renovation is included in BU’s fiscal year 2011 budget. Making the project LEED-certified has barely added to the bottom line. While initial investment may be higher than other non-LEED projects, key additions—like top-quality heating and cooling systems and high-tech insulation—save money over time.

“The actual costs have come in to be very similar” to non-LEED projects, Nicksa says. “You look at costs both in long-term capital expense and ongoing maintenance and operation.”

When renovated, the St. Mary’s Street complex will house 10 one-, two-, and three-bedroom units—complete with Energy Star appliances, efficient water and light fixtures, and bamboo flooring—and is scheduled for completion by early August.

Each unit will be individually metered. Tenants will be responsible for their own water and energy use, “allowing people to have some control over their destiny and energy consumption,” says Nicksa.

A construction crew removes nails from basement rafters.

Apartment rents will be set at local market rates. A two-bedroom apartment in Brookline now goes for $2,000 to $3,000 each month, he says, depending on the utilities included.

Officials are designing the site to be 30 percent more efficient than similar BU housing in key LEED areas, like water efficiency, energy consumption, waste production, carbon dioxide emissions, and the use of recycled construction materials, lumber from sustainably managed forests, and products—such as paint—made from low volatile organic compounds, according to Dennis Carlberg, the University’s sustainability director.

The building’s location—urban, near the T and bus lines, and within walking distance of BU—gives it an advantage in obtaining LEED certification. Among the standards used in granting LEED designation is a building’s proximity to public transportation.

BU officials hope all these elements will earn the project a silver certification, the third best LEED category on a 100-point scale. That determination will be made once construction is complete and has been inspected by a qualified professional.

The USGBC began the LEED program 12 years ago with the hope of changing building design and creating a uniform process for measuring green building standards, according to Carlberg. “People are paying attention to this in ways they’ve never been able to do before,” he says. The switch makes sense. After all, he says, people spend 80 to 90 percent of their lives in buildings, yet don’t know what’s in them.

“I think of LEED as nutrition facts for buildings,” Carlberg says. “We know what is in our buildings at a much greater level than we ever did before.”

The residential complex is one of six campus buildings that have been granted or are currently seeking LEED certification. Others are the laboratory and research facility at 670 Albany St. on the Medical Campus, an interior makeover at Sargent College’s Makechnie Study Center, a pilot program on reducing energy consumption (also at Sargent College), the planned School of Law addition, and the new East Campus Student Center at 100 Bay State Rd.

This is the first in an occasional series tracking the 85-87 St. Mary’s Street apartments through their green renovation. The next segment will provide glimpses of how the project has progressed through time.

Read more about the University going green.

Leslie Friday can be reached at lfriday@bu.edu; follow her on Twitter at @lesliefriday.

6 Comments

6 Comments on BU’s New Green House

  • Anonymous on 11.08.2010 at 9:16 am

    Good luck

    “Apartment rents will be set at local market rates. A two-bedroom apartment in Brookline now goes for $2,000 to $3,000 each month, he says, depending on the utilities included.”

    Good luck with that.

  • Anonymous on 11.08.2010 at 10:26 am

    wrong step in the right direction

    I know that LEED certification is the media darling of the moment right now but I’m not certain that this is a necessary choice. Similar to the excess of stu vi 2, BU is making a bizarre effort to make itself a luxury institution providing far more than is necessary for its students needs. I would bet that a group of individuals living cooperatively in the existing structure could already make significant cuts to their footprint by just living smart, less consumptive lifestyles without the overhead of expensive new technologies. Let’s try to keep environmentalism in the hands of the masses so that it doesn’t become too expensive to execute. If its all expensive hybrids and LEED certifications about 2% of our population is going to really enjoy cutting carbon emissions.

  • Anonymous on 11.08.2010 at 12:45 pm

    Wow!

    Again, BU has shown itself to be out of touch with its students. Hey administration, why don’t you focus on the real needs of the school and its members? Instead of some trivial issue like the energy efficiency of an apartment that has minuscule impact on BU’s image or the environment, maybe you should spend that money on student support, guidance, or academic services. There are truly more deserving areas that require your attention than an apartment that may or may not bring in “$2000-3,000 each month” for each unit. Whoever did the CB analysis must have misread or entered an extra zero. This “green house” is truly green($$$$$).

  • Leslie Friday on 11.08.2010 at 3:59 pm

    Faculty and staff housing

    This didn’t make it into the article, but the St. Mary’s Street complex is for faculty and staff housing. BU’s hoping the site will be attractive to newcomers and to those faculty and staff with families interested in the Brookline public school system.

  • Anonymous on 11.09.2010 at 2:09 pm

    A link to specifics would be of value

    Articles on energy efficiency are greatly enhanced by the provision of specifics on what was put into the structure. We’d like to see a link to a list of ingredients, such as HVAC choices, thermal regulation devices, types of insulation, details on the windows, etc. High efficiency materials and devices are constantly changing, so seeing what people are consciously choosing these days is helpful.

  • Anonymous on 11.10.2010 at 6:42 pm

    What happened to the BU stance that LEED was dumb? They refused to get stuvi 2 certified, claiming it would meet certification without wasting money on the actual certificate. Right.

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