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A look at Muhlenberg College’s Parkway Boulevard Building and its Living Building challenge

Muhlenberg College’s Parkway Boulevard Building will be the first building in the Lehigh Valley to seek CORE Green Building Certification.

When Muhlenberg College officials broke ground on the school’s new Parkway Boulevard Building on Chew Street earlier this month, President Kathleen Harring, called the building a “living symbol” of the college’s values.

But what is going to make the new building so special?

Lehigh Valley Business spoke with Scott Kelly of Philadelphia’s Re: Vision Architecture, the project’s architect, about what will make the building so unique.

The Parkway Boulevard Building, which will be going after LEED Gold Certification, is one of only 20 projects globally seeking the Living Building Challenge’s CORE Green Certification.

In some ways more stringent than LEED Certification, Kelly described CORE Green Certification as a different way of looking at sustainability, one that doesn’t simply benchmark sustainable features that are put into a building but assesses how it is used on an ongoing basis.

Kelly said in many ways the school’s plans for how it will use the building are as important a component in obtaining the CORE Green Certification as anything he has designed into the building.

“It’s a community building. It’s got many departments in it that will be working in the building,” he said. “CORE Green aligns with what the people will be doing in the building. It’s performance based rather than a prescriptive code.”

Kelly said collaboration, community, the arts and emotional and physical wellbeing are all components of obtaining the certification, and that means it might be more than a year after the building is open and being used before it will be able to apply to become CORE Green certified.

“It’s a different set of requirements and a broader set of qualities – beauty, social equity and health,” he said.

The building, which is expected to be complete by September 2022 will house the School of Graduate Studies, the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Program, the Institute of Public Opinion, the School of Continuing Studies, the Office of Community Engagement and art studio space.

But he also called the physical green features that will be included in the building “a deep dive into sustainability.”

He said the drive behind CORE Green is that it doesn’t just call on architects to design a building that does less harm – by using less power, for example. It demands that the building actually do good and help the environment around it and the people that use it.

That starts with the responsible use of materials for the building’s construction.

“If there is a toxic chemical imbedded in a material, I’m not going to use it,” Kelly said.

He said the airflow of the building is designed to bring in plenty of air from the outside, which will also help in the prevention of the spread of diseases, like COVID-19.

The building will also emphasize bringing as much natural light into the building as possible and will connect people with the nature surrounding them.

“Connecting people to nature keeps us happy and productive,” he said.

The building, of course, will use alternative energy. Kelly said solar panels on the roof will supply most of the energy the building needs.

The roof won’t just collect sunshine, it will also collect rainwater, which will be used to flush toilets in the building.

Water being collected by the building, and through a permeable deck, will also solve a problem the school has had with the tract of land it sits on – stormwater runoff.

Sitting on a 35-degree incline, the area has long been plagued by runoff, with much of the stormwater ending up in Cedar Beach.

The system in the Parkway Boulevard Building is designed to divert any water the building doesn’t use back into the aquifer.

“Stormwater used to be a problem. Now it’s going to be an asset,” Kelly said.

The building will also keep track of the power that is being used, and numbers will be on display as people enter the building, constantly updated so that everyone can see how energy is being saved.

Kelly said that will let the building’s managers know right away if there is a problem, or if one of the systems isn’t operating the way it should. But it should also inspire people to do more to save energy.

He called it the Prius effect. When people start driving a Prius, he said, they tend to be more mindful of how much gas they are saving and deliberately drive in a way that maximizes fuel efficiently.

Likewise, when people can see the power a building is using, and saving, they are more likely to be mindful of the energy they are using.

Past experience has shown that there is typically a 5% to 10% decrease in energy usage in a building when people are watching the numbers.

Kelly said even the placement of the building is part of the CORE Green mentality because it looks at the social aspects.

Not only does it encourage collaboration it adds many handicap accessibility features, which the area didn’t have before. He noted people in a wheelchair will be able to access the terrace on the building and look down on the scenic view below for the first time.

Writer Stacy Wescoe has her finger on the pulse of the business community in the Greater Lehigh Valley and keeps you up-to-date with technology and trends, plus what coworkers and competitors are talking about around the water cooler — and on social media. She can be reached at swescoe@bridgetowermedia.com or 610-807-9619, ext. 4104. Follow her on Twitter and on Facebook.

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