Walk down the south side of 113th St., between Broadway and Riverside Drive. Mid-block you'll see a building whose external grandeur testifies to its hundred-year history and whose internal renovation and dedicated space are history-making in their own right.
The building is now home to Columbia's first Alumni Center.
The Center's renovation, accomplished over the past two years and now about three months from full completion, has been a thoroughly green endeavor. "From the beginning of the gut renovation of 622 W. 113th St. for the housing of the new Alumni Center, our shared vision for the green building has included both its design and structural elements as well as day-to-day staff consciousness and effort toward sustainability.
"I'm delighted to say that everyone involved in the construction project and everyone who works in the building has signed on to this vision and continues to find new ways of furthering it, " says Susan Feagin, Executive Vice President for University Development and Alumni Relations.
The building's glass entryway, etched with the names of each of Columbia's schools and its founding date, leads to the first-floor Alumni Welcome Center. Columbia University's Office of Alumni and Development and Columbia College Alumni Affairs and Development intermix in the remainder of the nine-floor building.
Approximately 235 employees moved into the building on Jan. 5 from leased space in the Interchurch Center at 475 Riverside Drive. Prior to its current use and pre-renovation, the building - then known as McVickar Hall - housed the School of Social Work.
From the beginning of the project, the Alumni Center was registered with the United States Green Building Council, seeking LEED - Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design - certification. The USGBC describes the LEED system as "the nationally accepted benchmark for design, construction and operation of high performance green buildings." Northwest Science, at Broadway and 120th St., and the Alumni Center are the first buildings on the Morningside campus to be registered for LEED certification.
"The special thing about this project is that we're solidly in the gold category," says Doug McKean, Director, Capital Projects Management, Facilities. McKean expects the official LEED rating by fall.
The design and materials were chosen for compatibility with LEED certification, says Elizabeth Braden, Deputy Vice President for Operations, who has had a major role in the project.
Braden notes the zoned heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems that constantly pipe in outside air, lighting that's designed to save 35 percent in energy consumption by using occupancy sensors that monitor motion and body temperature, and daylight harvesting that adjusts interior lights according to the amount of natural light coming through the building's large windows.
Braden says that "two other things also stand out:" a water filtration system in each of the building's four pantries that has eliminated the use of bottled water, and dual-flush, water-conserving toilets in each restroom.
Yet the building's infrastructure is just one part of its greening.
Dan Baker describes one of his roles at the Center as "sort of working on internal habits to match the LEED efforts, trying to create the sustainable work habits to complement the LEED building."
Nearly a year before the move, Baker inaugurated the Task Force for a Green Alumni Center, comprising 12 staffers who volunteered for membership. Subcommittees dealt with recycling, "green" staff habits, and paper.
Eight recommendations were presented to Task Force members' colleagues: double-sided printing will be the norm; ceramic cups will replace cardboard ones; discussion material at meetings will increasingly take electronic form; every floor will contain a full complement of recycling containers; filtered drinking water will be available; all paper will have a high degree of post-consumer recycled content; all cleaning fluids will be environmentally friendly; individual coffee/tea pods will be 100 percent biodegradable and many coffee/tea options will be fair-trade and organic.
All of the recommendations have been adopted and are standard practice in the new offices.
Braden says the plan is to continue the Task Force in order to maintain the high level of environmental awareness with the staff.
A project Braden says administrators have "been talking about for years" was how to deal with the Office of Alumni and Development's tremendous amount of paper in their central files - close to a million pieces. "We realized," she says, "that with this move we really need to scan this information into our database."
In partnership with IKON Office Solutions, Inc., the files are now in the central database, Braden says, and we have significantly reduced our paperwork.
Every person in the building - including senior executives - works in an open cubicle with environmentally friendly furnishings. So Helen Bielak, Manager, Surplus Reuse Program, Department of Environmental Stewardship, helped find new homes for the impractical wood free-standing desks, primarily working with the School of Arts and Sciences.
McKean sums up the project this way: ""We've got a very efficient building. We did all the right things to get an incredibly low carbon footprint. We've taken a hundred-year-old building and given it a whole new life."