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College showing off green building

By John Laidler
Globe Correspondent / October 23, 2011

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North Shore Community College is celebrating the completion of a $31 million building project that puts it on the cutting edge of the green building movement.

Last week, state and college officials gathered for a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new Health Professions & Student Services Building, a 58,000-square-foot structure on North Shore’s Danvers campus.

In addition to providing the college with much needed space for its growing student population, the new facility has the distinction of being the first state-owned “zero net energy’’ building in Massachusetts, a term used for buildings that generate through clean, renewable sources at least as much energy as they consume. It is also the second largest publicly owned zero net energy building in the state.

The building gains that status because of the solar electric panels installed on its main roof and walkway canopies, along with its many other energy-saving features. Those range from the green roof garden and the geothermal wells in the parking lot, which both contribute to heating and cooling, and a design that maximizes use of sunlight to limit lighting needs.

“As an educational institution, we have an obligation to be a regional leader in many ways, and one is to make sure that what we are teaching our students is how we are actually behaving,’’ said Wayne Burton, president of North Shore.

“So when we urge them to think about conserving our resources, we have to be doing the same thing,’’ he added. “And there’s no better way to do that than by having a building that’’ embodies those values.

The three-story building, whose construction is complete except for some minor details, is set to open in January.

In addition to its zero net energy status, the new North Shore building’s many green features qualify it for LEED Gold certification. LEED, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, is a green building certification system developed by the US Green Building Council. Buildings can be certified as silver, gold, or platinum, the highest rating.

The project is the latest of an ongoing series that has raised North Shore’s profile as a green-oriented institution. In 2009, the college installed solar panels on the roof of the Thomas W. McGee building on its Lynn campus, and earlier this year it installed solar panels on the roof of its Frederick E. Berry building in Danvers. Several years ago, it implemented an array of energy-saving improvements on both campuses.

North Shore has also implemented a Green Curriculum Project, through which 30 faculty members in 16 departments have integrated environmental concepts into their courses, and has introduced an environmental studies program. In 2007, Burton signed the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment, an effort by higher education chiefs to address global climate disruption.

College officials said a happy convergence of interest resulted in North Shore being the site of the first zero net energy building, on which construction began in 2009.

The college needed a new building to house its allied science programs because the Essex Agricultural and Technical High School in Danvers, where most of that program is now housed, is going to be converted to a new regional vocational school. North Shore also wanted to consolidate its health programs, some of which are located in its math and science building on the Danvers campus, at one site.

Just as the college was pursuing plans for that building, the Patrick administration, as part of its policy of promoting green building construction, was looking for an opportunity to develop the state’s first zero net energy building. With encouragement from North Shore, it selected the North Shore building, according to college officials, who said the state hopes to make the project a model for others.

It cost the state $2 million more to construct the building to zero net energy standards than had it just been built to LEED gold standards. But over time, the college expects to save as much as $150,000 a year from the solar panels alone, which will supply all the building’s annual power needs and may at times generate surplus power that could be used by the campus’s other buildings or sold to the Danvers municipal electric utility.

College officials say the school will also benefit from having modern facilities for its health programs, including those in nursing, physical and occupational therapy, radiology, respiratory and surgical care, and animal sciences. And they say it will serve as a new consolidated location for student and administrative support services.

“It’s a beautiful building. It’s very functional and it saves us energy and saves us costs,’’ said Janice Forsstrum, North Shore’s vice president of administration and finance. “We’re very proud of it.’’