By Marina Weis
Surrounded by a combination of river and pavement Downtown, the only “green” most students at Point Park University see are the planted trees in its urban park and sidewalks and the distant slopes of Mount Washington.
But although it may not be green in physicality, the downtown university earned itself official national recognition for sustainability by renovating more than a dozen old buildings, working to save energy and recycling, as well as building a new urban park dotted with trees.
“Point Park University was sustainable long before it became widely accepted as the necessary approach,” said Elmer Burger, Point Park University’s architect and chair of its Sustainability Committee.
Since its inception, Point Park chose the difficult option to modernize most of its buildings, the oldest being Lawrence Hall, which was constructed in the early 1900s as a hotel on Wood Street and acquired by Point Park in the 1960s.
As it has grown dramatically over the past decade, it only constructed two buildings from scratch – the rest were adaptive reuse of existing buildings, including the recent transformation of a parking lot to a Village Park on the corner of Boulevard of the Allies and Wood Street, complete with trees, a fountain and recreation space.
The park is just a part of the University’s Academic Village Initiative, a $244 million campus enhancement plan. The next phase of the plan maintains the sustainability theme by reusing and adapting the existing University Center library on Wood Street into the Pittsburgh Playhouse.
All new construction will be Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certified.
Point Park’s George Rowland White Performance Center, a tall dance studio, was built partially transparent with windows stretching the length and width of the building, frequently revealing practicing dancers. It earned LEED Gold, one of the highest levels of certification in the US Green Building Council’s building performance program, according to the University’s website.
In order to combat the warming effect that sheer building mass has in an urban environment, Burger said the accumulative effort of small projects build the sustainable approach.
“Many aspects of sustainability do not cost anything. So much of it is behavioral,” he said. “Saving energy is one major aspect.”
Because each building is different, Point Park must make a concentrated effort to collect data over a long period of time in order to measure its saving by being sustainable. Burger said the savings are not only in dollars, but also in improved productivity and occupant health as well as reduced carbon impact on the environment.
He said using new equipment that is more efficient can cost more, but it is reciprocated when energy costs reduce. Point Park is one of two universities in the country to receive the Trane Energy Efficiency Leader in Education Award for selecting high performance infrastructure systems in the Dance Complex, according to the University’s website.
“Because the university is a microcosm of the larger community, the manner in which it carries out its daily activities is an important demonstration of ways to achieve environmentally responsible living and to reinforce desired values and behaviors in the whole community,” Burger said.