VCU Debuts Eco-Friendly Education Building at Rice Center

Building Constructed with Goal of LEED Platinum Certification

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Virginia Commonwealth University today unveiled its new $2.6 million research and education building at the Rice Center, VCU’s 343-acre living laboratory on the James River. The building was constructed with a goal of achieving the highest sustainability rating possible, LEED platinum.

The 4,900-square-foot Walter L. Rice Education Building houses lecture and laboratory rooms for classes, a conference room and administrative offices as well as an outdoor classroom pavilion.

VCU has committed to ensuring that the highest level of sustainability be met for all facilities at the center, which also includes a research pier with boathouses. The building incorporates features such as geothermal heating and cooling, solar electrical power generation and advanced water recycling and wastewater treatment systems. Platinum status is being pursued through the nationally recognized U.S. Green Building Council's LEED, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, Green Building Rating System.
The education building completes Phase I of development at the property, which VCU uses for research, education and outreach. The building itself will serve as an educational tool for faculty, students and the community at large about the benefits of sustainable building practices.
“This is one of the most impressive field stations in the country right now,” said VCU President Eugene P. Trani, Ph.D. “This beautiful, eco-friendly building will further enable VCU to establish itself as a leader in large river ecosystem research.

“It also showcases VCU’s dedication to the environment and to the education of students, whether they are at VCU now or in the middle and high schools in the surrounding communities,” he said.

The VCU Rice Center was created from an ecology-rich parcel of land that Inger Rice donated to VCU in 2000. It is located on the north bank of the historic James River, southeast of Richmond in Charles City County. VCU Life Sciences uses the property for research, education and outreach activities, many of which focus on large rivers and their riparian landscapes.

“It is unique for an urban university to have a living laboratory like the Rice Center,” said Leonard Smock, Ph.D., chair of VCU’s Department of Biology and director of the Rice Center. “It’s particularly noteworthy to have it located within a half hour of our downtown campuses. The access for our students is incredible.”

The building relies on rain gardens to collect and treat storm water runoff, and a vegetated roof system reduces heat island effect and storm water runoff. Energy consumption is reduced by many features, including geothermal heating and cooling; high-efficiency interior and exterior lighting; high insulation levels that rely on soy-based products and recycled denim; and ventilation via operable windows.

Water efficient plumbing fixtures include dual flush and power-assist toilets that are flushed with rainwater collected in a series of cisterns. Pre-engineered, on-site wastewater treatment results in advanced, clear and odorless effluent infiltrated into nearby wooded areas.

Rapidly renewable products were favored in construction, including sorghum paneling, recycled steel and gypsum board. Seventy-five percent of the construction waste materials were diverted from landfills by recycling.

“The building is not just a building, but also a teaching vehicle,” said Brian Ohlinger, VCU’s associate vice president for facilities management. “There are classrooms and labs inside, but in the end, the building teaches too.”

Since 2000, the Rice Center has seen the construction of a research pier that serves as the front-door from the river. VCU and the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries dock their boats in the six-slip facility. An attached floating platform dock can accommodate visiting boats and the loading of research equipment.

In September, the Rice Center saw the addition of The Education Pavilion, an outdoor classroom adjacent to the education building that VCU named for Drs. Richard J. and Carol L. Rezba and Dominion.

In addition to research, the Rice Center has an active and nationally renowned education program that brings in middle and high school teachers from across the country during the summer months to participate in a variety of classes on the site.