BOZEMAN — When it opens in December, Montana State University’s newest building will get much of its energy from the sun and will use the surrounding earth to assist with its heating and cooling needs, significantly reducing operating costs.

Architech's rendering of Norm Asbjornson Hall. (Courtesy of MSU)

That’s the simple explanation of cutting-edge building technologies that helped Norm Asbjornson Hall become one of only 10 buildings in Montana certified as LEED Platinum, the U.S. Green Building Council's highest certification.

“We’re very proud to provide a building this efficient for the state and for our university system,” said Brett Gunnink, dean of MSU's Norm Asbjornson College of Engineering, which will occupy the building along with MSU's Honors College.

According to Dan Stevenson, MSU’s associate vice president for university services, Norm Asbjornson Hall will use roughly half the energy per square foot as many other buildings on MSU's campus, despite machine shops, laboratory vent hoods and other equipment with significant energy requirements contained within the building.

"This building is about pushing the envelope of energy-efficient design and integrating that into our students' learning experience," Stevenson said. Built-in data-gathering systems will allow students to analyze the building's energy performance, and parts of the heating and cooling system are prominently displayed and accessible for teaching, he explained.

The public will be able to tour Norm Asbjornson Hall during its grand opening on Friday, Dec. 14 with a ribbon-cutting kickoff at 10 a.m. Norm Asbjornson Hall is located on the southwest corner of Seventh Avenue and Grant Street.

As a result of design features that contributed to the LEED designation, the building's classrooms, workshops, research labs and offices will also be exceptionally well-ventilated and full of natural daylight, creating an ideal working and learning environment, Stevenson said.

The building marks a major step forward for MSU's use of energy-efficient technologies for heating and cooling campus buildings, Stevenson noted. For instance, the building's south face features multiple solar walls, which consist of a heat-absorbing, perforated surface. Air drawn through the solar walls is warmed and then used for ventilation. The technology, first installed at MSU on a smaller scale on Jabs Hall in 2016, "has proven to be even more effective than we thought it would be," Stevenson said. Solar walls cost only slightly more than a conventional wall surface and quickly pay for themselves with energy savings, he said.

Norm Asbjornson Hall also features a closed-loop geothermal system that circulates water through pipes to a depth of 500 feet below the ground's surface to either help cool or warm the building.

Lights that automatically adjust according to daylight levels and special windows that change tint to reduce glare and unwanted heat from the sun are among the other features that helped tally 82 points on LEED’s 109-point scale. Other achievements that contributed to the LEED Platinum certification included:

  • Low-flow indoor fixtures resulting in water use reduction of 41 percent
  • Diversion of 96 percent of construction waste from landfill
  • Ease in public transportation access
  • Stormwater management system that includes vegetated retention ponds and an underground storage facility, reducing use of the city's stormwater system and resulting in increased water quality
  • Selection of materials containing recycled content and sourced regionally; wood was sustainably harvested
  • Selection of paints, coatings, adhesives, sealants and floor coverings with low or no emission of volatile chemicals

According to building consultant Kath Williams, whose Bozeman firm guided MSU’s team through the certification process, the size and complexity of Norm Asbjornson Hall added an extra challenge for earning LEED Platinum — other LEED Platinum buildings in Montana are significantly smaller. “MSU’s commitment to doing this was overwhelming,” she said.

Construction of the building was funded largely by a $50 million private gift from Norm Asbjornson, an MSU engineering alumnus and Montana native from the small town of Winifred. Asbjornson, who announced the gift in 2014, is the founder and president of AAON, a NASDAQ-traded heating, ventilation and air conditioning manufacturer based Tulsa, Oklahoma. AAON equipment is used throughout the building, and Asbjornson was involved in the design of the building. No taxpayer dollars have been used in the construction of the building.

Project architects for the building are A&E Architects and ZGF Architects, LLP. Martel Construction is the general contractor. Associated Construction Engineering, Inc. is the engineering consultant, and Kath Williams + Associates is LEED consultant.

Norm Asbjornson Hall is the eighth building on the MSU campus certified as LEED, which stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program. MSU’s Cooley Laboratory, which opened in 2012 after a renovation, earned LEED Gold certification. A renovated Gaines Hall received LEED Silver in 2011, and Gallatin Hall, a suite-style residence hall, received LEED Gold in 2015. In 2016, Jabs Hall, home of the MSU Jake Jabs College of Business and Entrepreneurship, earned LEED Gold and Yellowstone Hall, a freshman residence hall, won LEED Gold. In 2017, Miller Dining Hall earned LEED Silver in after a renovation, and the new Curatorial Center for the Humanities building at the Museum of the Rockies earned LEED Gold.

 

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