Architecture Students Complete Process to Obtain LEED Certification for Free Health Center

Tahar Messadi, third from left in the back row, is pictured with, back row from left, Evan Hursley, Jonathan Evans, Hunter Hobbs, Kyle Heflin, Elizabeth Stinnett and Miranda Harju, all architecture students. In the front row, from left, are Patricia Della Sera Fong, Gabriella McConnel, Juan Alvarez, Morgan Conway and Rachel Thaller. McConnel is an environmental, soil, and water science major in the Bumpers College of Agricultural, Food and Life Sciences, and the others are architecture students.
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Tahar Messadi, third from left in the back row, is pictured with, back row from left, Evan Hursley, Jonathan Evans, Hunter Hobbs, Kyle Heflin, Elizabeth Stinnett and Miranda Harju, all architecture students. In the front row, from left, are Patricia Della Sera Fong, Gabriella McConnel, Juan Alvarez, Morgan Conway and Rachel Thaller. McConnel is an environmental, soil, and water science major in the Bumpers College of Agricultural, Food and Life Sciences, and the others are architecture students.

FAYETTEVEILLE, Ark. – The Northwest Arkansas Free Health Center recently achieved LEED certification at the silver level after receiving the help of architecture students in the Fay Jones School of Architecture at the University of Arkansas.

The center, a non-profit organization, was founded in 1986 to provide quality health and dental care to low-income individuals regardless of their ability to pay. From the center's humble beginnings in the basement of a Fayetteville church, it then moved to the basement of the National Guard Armory building near the downtown square for many years.

The nonprofit organization sought a new location in 2013, settling on a space in central Fayetteville that had housed an exercise and physical rehabilitation center for Washington Regional Medical Center. Monika Fischer-Massie, the center's director, reached out to Marlon Blackwell, as the organization began a major fundraising campaign to raise the $800,000 necessary to remodel the property. Blackwell's firm, Marlon Blackwell Architects, working with SSI Design-Build Constructors and HP Engineering, successfully designed and fashioned a "green" building using processes that are environmentally responsible and resource-efficient throughout a building's life-cycle from the initial design to deconstruction.

Blackwell is a Distinguished Professor and head of the Department of Architecture in the Fay Jones School of Architecture. He also is a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects.

Blackwell enlisted the help of Tahar Messadi, associate professor of architecture and 21st Century Chair in Sustainability, to take on the venture of obtaining LEED certification for the health center. LEED, or Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design, is a U.S. Green Building Council certification program that recognizes best-in-class building strategies and practices. Different levels of certification are received when building projects satisfy prerequisites that earn points.

The budget for a nonprofit project made it clear that this was an educational opportunity for Fay Jones School students, Blackwell said. For this class, students not only learned the intricacies of the LEED certification process, but they also had to apply those to a real project as they worked in the field. He said that the LEED process is "qualifying, but very challenging for students," and he also felt this was also a good opportunity for Messadi to gain more experience.

Messadi led a course in summer 2014 that had a total of 11 students divided into five groups. Each group was in charge of a category, such as energy, material resources and water efficiency. The students clearly understood their goal for the class: to get the building LEED certified in five weeks.

Initially, the building did not earn enough points to earn LEED certification. All parties re-evaluated the data and detected additional points that could be earned with proper documentation and compromise. For example, the designers were aiming for six points in the water category and had to ask the center's director to modify the plumbing to do so. Fischer-Massie, who was very passionate about this project and dedicated to achieving LEED certification, obliged.

A revised submission to the U.S. Green Building Council was scheduled, and Messadi received an email in late January confirming that the health center was not only LEED certified, but at the silver level. Messadi praised the students for all of their hard work and diligence, and for exceeding the expectations of those who claimed the task could not be done.

Blackwell offered design services without payment on the front end, to help create the vision of what was needed. Then, the health center's officials used those designs to help garner support and raise the funds needed to renovate the building, and the architecture firm was paid out of the funds raised.

Fischer-Massie said that the money saved from having such an energy efficient building allows the center to redirect those funds to patient care.

The Northwest Arkansas Free Health Center in Fayetteville provides medical, dental and other health care services for the region’s underserved population. (Photo by Timothy Hursley)

Excluding schools and city buildings such as the Fayetteville Public Library and Fayetteville District Court, only four buildings in the city of Fayetteville are LEED certified. The Northwest Arkansas Free Health Center joins the ranks of the Innovation Center, Waterside Business Center and the former BioBased Technologies lab, but is the first health care building in the city to be LEED certified. "We are a health care facility – why wouldn't we be 'green,'" Fischer-Massie said.

Jonathan Evans, a student in the class, said that the only way to gain an appreciation of what goes on behind the scenes to create a sustainable building is to experience it firsthand. His fellow classmates and their professor echoed that sentiment.

As department head, Blackwell feels it is his duty to create scenarios to employ the civic engagement aspect of the school as an effort to assist students in understanding the complete design process. "Working with experts helps students learn not only the why, but the how," Blackwell said.

The teaching style employed here, getting students out of the classroom and into the field, is one that Messadi said he will continue to use and develop. Not only did this project give the students tangible experience, but also it simultaneously prepared them for the test to become LEED AP/Green Associates. That qualification is one valued by firms, which often pay an additional $3,000 to their associates who are qualified.

Elizabeth Stinnett, another student in the class, said that the task of obtaining LEED certification was a difficult one, but it was an invaluable experience in which their efforts really paid off.

"What [students] lacked in knowledge and experience, they made up for with enthusiasm," Blackwell said. "And, they rise to the challenge every time."

The value of sustainability in projects such as this one is not a concrete or universal interpretation. "Sustainable design modifies the sensibility of design in general and solves for the problems of human interaction," Blackwell said.

"You're not a slave to the [LEED certification] book," said Juan Alvarez, a student in the class. "Innovation has value. You get credit for being an architect.

"Buildings are designed and built every day," Alvarez said. "The best aspect about using sustainable design practices from an architectural standpoint is that it is an opportunity to make something substantial and lasting - all the while making human life better."

The Free Health Center will host an event April 29 to recognize and appreciate each of the contributors and to celebrate the LEED silver achievement.

Contacts

Maree Morse, communications intern
Fay Jones School of Architecture
479-575-4704, mxm054@uark.edu

Michelle Parks, director of communications
Fay Jones School of Architecture
479-575-4704, mparks17@uark.edu

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