Kennecott Building undergoes eco-friendly, safety-first renovations

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Celebrating years of upgrades and expansions, the Rio Tinto Kennecott Mechanical Engineering Building is hosting an open house Friday at 1:30 p.m. on the third floor in the Sydney and Marian Green Classroom.

Recent renovations are in the second stage of remodeling, the first of which finished in 2013. The additions include expansion to the east and north wings, a four-story atrium, a renovated student lab, and safety and sustainability updates the building hadn’t undergone since its construction in the 1950s.

Michael Kay, assistant dean for the College of Engineering, said this project has turned “an old, dilapidated building into a real showcase.”

One of the biggest safety upgrades are the seismic retrofits, which include shear walls that better withstand the shock waves of an earthquake and building restrained braces to absorb vibrations. The new atrium also received a horizontal fire shutter designed to close off and prevent smoke and flames from spreading to the rest of the building in the event of a fire.

In addition to these upgrades, there was also a boost for sustainability. Kay said the structure was one of the least eco-friendly on campus before they started. Now, the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), which recognizes energy efficient strategies and practices, certified the building gold.

“You think you’re getting the silver medal in the Olympic, but you get the gold because you save so much energy,” Kay said.

Improvements include a chilled beam system, an air conditioning method that uses 53 percent less energy and a tighter building seal, which prevents cool or warm air leaking out, making it cheaper to maintain. The building’s strip-down aesthetic — which exposes much of the infrastructure and systems — also cuts back on maintenance costs and helps promote the student learning environment, Kay said.

“It’s a building that not only houses mechanical engineering, but it teaches mechanical engineering,” Kay said. “We’ve exposed everything we can to allow the students as they’re working and learning in this building to see how engineering creates these structures to keep us safe and keep us comfortable.”

Shireen Ghorbani, a communication specialist for Facilities Management, said the overhaul of the structure also increases its accessibility for students in wheelchairs. Additionally, the new pedestrian walkway connecting Kennecott to the rest of campus provides a safer way for all students to cross to the bus stop.

Ghorbani also said preserving an older building on campus rather than creating a new one was a welcome change.

“New buildings are wonderful, and sometimes they’re needed, but we also have some older buildings that just need a little TLC,” Ghorbani said. “I think this is a wonderful example of investing in the spaces that we have.”

The project was largely funded by donors. However, some money came from Capital Improvement, funds from the legislature to repair and maintain infrastructure on existing state facilities, and will take around seven years to pay off.

The project has one final phase, the starting date of which depends on how quickly the department can raise money for it. This stage will add another 20,000 square feet in lab space, consolidating the mechanical engineering department into one building.

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@EhmannKy