Green standard: OMRF building earns kudos for sustainability

Published: Wednesday, February 10, 2010 7:00 am By: Tom Lindley

The Journal Record

OKLAHOMA CITY - The human sustainability experts at the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation have learned a lot lately about saving both the environment and some green.

By this time next year, they will have a lot to show for their research - an eight-story, $54 million tower that is believed to be the first medical research facility anywhere to harness the wind to help power its laboratories.

"Our mission at OMRF is to perform research that helps people live longer, healthier lives," Dr. Stephen Prescott, OMRF president, said Wednesday. "What is that but human sustainability? So with this tower, we're just taking the natural next step - trying to attain environmental sustainability."

But the 24 double-helix wind turbines that will sit atop the tower aren't the whole story, although they will serve as an important symbol of Oklahoma's renewable-energy potential.

The real lesson may be that thinking green means thinking way ahead.

"Most people design a building and then ask, 'How can we make this green?'" Prescott said. "We installed the green features first, and then we designed the rest of the building around them."

Sheryl Rood, OMRF's owner representative on the project, said the design team was fabulous in incorporating sustainable features into the building's design from the start.

"I think it boils down to reduce what you need; reuse what you can and what you can't use, you recycle," Rood said.

As a result, the tower is only the second building in the state and the first in Oklahoma City to earn gold-level certification for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED).

OMRF also has been selected as a finalist for the Renewable Energy World North America Award in the category of building integrated renewals. The winners will be announced Feb. 23 in Austin.

Overall, the tower's energy-saving measures will decrease electricity usage by 37 percent and total power use by 17 percent, which will cut annual CO2 emissions by 2,162,520 pounds.

Sustainability was a factor throughout the design process, including the site selection, the demolition process (the new building went in on the site of an existing building) and how the new tower would be positioned.

For example, the demolition process took a little longer to allow the contractor to reclaim some materials for recycling, Rood said.

"The actual sighting of the building and how you orient it toward the sun is another key component," she said. "We have more wall covering on the east and west sides to minimize the heat and the north and south faces have a lot of windows to allow for indirect lighting."

The ultimate size of the building also could be scored as a sustainability plus.

Originally, it was thought that 200,000 square feet would be needed to satisfy the research program's needs, but Rood said that through design efficiencies the size was reduced to 186,000 feet, a 7-percent reduction and an energy saver.

The building also will feature a living roof and rain garden to prevent runoff pollution and insulate the building, as well as an air-conditioning system that will reduce water consumption by recycling condensation.

"I am proud," Rood said. "This is really a neat building."

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