Information Technology Facility is UI's first building with top LEED certification
Monday, June 25, 2012

The new University of Iowa Information Technology Facility (ITF) has become the first building on campus to earn LEED Platinum certification—the ultimate standard for green design.

Information Technology Facility
The LEED Platinum-certified Information Technology Facility will house and protect computing and network equipment that is vital to the operations of the university and its hospitals and clinics.

Completed in December 2011 after three years of construction and seven years of planning, the 43,000-square-foot, $30 million facility will house and protect computing and network equipment that is vital to the operations of the university and its hospitals and clinics.

The facility provides a secure and reliable home for the university’s IT systems. Its “hardened” outer shell is built to withstand severe weather, and backup electrical and cooling systems are designed to keep essential technology up and running if the primary utility systems supporting them were to fail. Two 7,200-square-foot data halls meet the ventilation and air conditioning requirements for servers and provide space for high-performance research computing.

“Data centers are among the most energy-intensive facilities you’ll find on a campus. To build ours to LEED Platinum standards speaks volumes about the UI’s commitment to energy conservation and sustainability,” says UI President Sally Mason. “Our goals for a sustainable university are stated in our strategic plan and 2020 Vision sustainability targets, and this major accomplishment significantly helps to bring those aspirations to reality.”

Developed by the U.S. Green Building Council, the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) system measures sustainability in site selection, water efficiency, energy sources and consumption, materials and resources, air quality, and other environmental considerations. The ITF is believed to be the first educational institution data center certified as LEED Platinum. In 2011, only 20 higher education buildings in the country achieved LEED Platinum status, according to a report in Scientific American.

ITF bioswale
A bio-retention cell will retain and absorb water runoff, serving as a natural filter and providing erosion control.

Securing a LEED designation for an energy-hungry facility like a data center called for creative problem solving on the project team’s part. LEED requires an annual energy savings of 14 percent over industry standards. Initial calculations indicated that the ITF would not reach that level, but the team adjusted operational practices to boost efficiency. Now annual energy savings are estimated at 71 percent, and the ITF earned all possible energy performance points in its LEED assessment.

Other sustainable aspects of the ITF include:

  • Diverted construction waste from landfill: 341 tons (86 percent of total)
  • Green materials: 55 percent of wood-based construction materials were Forest Stewardship Council certified, and 32 percent of the total construction materials were recycled. Almost half of the building materials came from within 500 miles.
  • Efficient fixtures: will cut potable water use by an estimated 41 percent
  • Sustainable transportation: bicycle storage, shower facilities, and carpool parking
  • Bio-retention cell: 7,800-square-foot garden-like area on 6 feet of soil with 1,500 plantings will retain and absorb water runoff. It will serve as a natural filter and provide erosion control.
  • Minimal “ heat island effect thanks to a white roof and highly reflective materials
  • Low-emitting materials throughout the building
  • Optimal indoor air quality through enhanced ventilation and thermal comfort design, and implementation of a green cleaning program

“Our campus increasingly turns to electronic communications and information management, so incorporating sustainable choices into an energy-intensive data center just makes sense,” says Liz Christiansen, director of the UI Office of Sustainability. “The UI will realize the long-term operational cost benefits that come from building sustainably.”

Four UI projects have achieved LEED Gold certification in recent years: Beckwith Boathouse, the Sports Medicine Clinic, the State Hygienic Laboratory, and the Stuit Hall renovation. The university is pursuing LEED certification for the Carver-Hawkeye Arena addition/renovation, the College of Public Health Building, the Pappajohn Institute for Biomedical Discovery Building, and the Hancher Auditorium and School of Music replacements. The UI has set a minimum standard of LEED Silver certification for all new construction and major renovations. ( more on UI LEED projects)

The ITF project involved collaboration among several units, including Facilities Management and the Office of Sustainability, Health Care Information Systems, and Information Technology Services.

“All new building projects require cooperation by many university stakeholders, each with a unique perspective and set of priorities,” says Rod Lehnertz, director of Planning, Design, and Construction in Facilities Management. “Strong partnerships and a lasting commitment by stakeholders, consultants, and contractors secured success for this project and made it possible to attain the highest level of sustainability.”

The new facility replaces data centers in Jessup Hall and the General Hospital. Those centers needed major improvements that would have been far too costly or even impossible to make. Migration to the ITF is in progress. Soon, departments and units will have the opportunity to house IT equipment there (rather than in smaller rooms or closets across campus), contributing to energy savings.

The new data center is considered a “hardened” facility, designed to withstand an EF3 tornado, covered by a multi-layered roof that stands up to a snow load of 30 pounds per square foot, and equipped with an electric field vector mapping system to detect leakage. It is protected from lightning and power surges via 80 lightning rods with 30 separate paths to an extensive electrical ground grid. The ITF site is located a safe distance from the areas of campus that flooded in 2008.

“IT is central to the daily life, courses, research, and work process of nearly every UI student, faculty, and staff member,” says Associate Vice President and CIO Steve Fleagle. “The IT staff, architects, and engineers worked very hard to design a dependable, secure facility that is also extremely efficient.”

Architects and consultants on the project included: The Weidt Group (sustainability and energy), SVPA Architects, Inc. (architecture and interior design), EYP MCF (engineering and consulting), Ryan Companies (construction management), Confluence (landscape architecture), Shive-Hattery (civil engineering), Charles Saul Engineering (structural engineering), and Stecker-Harmsen (cost estimating). Construction contractors included: Cardinal Construction (general), Hunt Electric (electrical), Viking (fire), Ryan & Associates (mechanical), Rathje Construction (site preparation), and Maxwell Construction (site utilities).

“The fact that the teams involved were able to design and build a complex facility that meets the demanding requirements of both the university and the health care enterprise is impressive,” says Lee Carmen, associate vice president for information systems at UI Health Care. “The recognition that this facility meets LEED Platinum certification makes their contributions even more incredible.”