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Utah dean aims to improve inefficient buildings

Utah dean aims to improve inefficient buildings

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- A University of Utah professor wants to reduce the energy use of an aging building on campus by 85 percent.

Brenda Case Scheer is proposing to retrofit the eastern half of the 48,000-square-foot Art and Architecture Building, the Salt Lake Tribune reported. The improvements would include everything from double-pane windows to a centralized kitchen that would eliminate approximately 50 small, private kitchens that include energy-sucking refrigerators.

Scheer, who is the dean of the College of Architecture and Planning, hopes the building's renovation will become a model for reducing energy use at almost 200 other inefficient buildings on campus.

"For us, it's a moral obligation to demonstrate a project like this in a 1970s building," Scheer said. "There are thousands of buildings like this around the country. We want our students to be familiar with this."

The plans have not been approved, and she did not have a cost estimate. But she said that the university spends between $300,000 and $400,000 per year on energy use for the building.

The renovation would include a 20,000-square-foot addition. Since the building opened, the college has grown from 200 to 600 students, making space tight.

Scheer has no intention of gutting the building, which is a superb example of the "brutalist" style popular in the 1960s, or rearranging its interior spaces.

Like many buildings that is around its age, the center isn't insulated and its ventilating system blows so hard that it pressurizes the building and pushes doors open. Hot spots abound in winter, and some corners are cold in summer. The ample glass windows hemorrhage heat, yet natural light doesn't reach many areas.

Buildings account for 40 percent of the energy used in the United States, said Mark Frankel of the New Building Institute, an energy-use think tank based in Vancouver, Wash.

Retrofitting existing buildings is critical to reducing the nation's energy use, and Utah's Art and Architecture Center will serve as a good test case of how far a university can go in fixing a deficient structure.

"There's a lot of work to do, and there are some significant challenges there. They'll have to be very aggressive to achieve the efficiencies for it to be demonstrative," said Frankel, who spent countless hours in the architecture building as a graduate student.


(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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