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Fall 2007

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Inside Story

Facade of the Benjamin Hall Interdisciplinary Research Building

Saving Green by Building Green

On October 17, the University of Washington will dedicate the brand-new Benjamin Hall Interdisciplinary Research Building. Besides being named for a truly stellar researcher, this building also is a strong symbol of our dedication to environmental stewardship.

The Ben Hall Building is just the 11th structure in the United States to be rated as LEED-CS Pilot Gold by the U.S. Green Building Council. It is also the first building in Washington state and at the UW to receive this gold rating. (See the full list of LEED-certified UW buildings.) The energy savings alone are expected to be $220,000 per year. Also the designer-builder team the University chose—M.A. Mortenson and their subcontractors, CollinsWoerman, for design and Johnson Controls for operations and maintenance—agreed to operate and maintain the building at a guaranteed price for the full 30-year contract. This arrangement ensured the University the most economical construction costs and building life cycle costs and resulted in some clever cost-saving innovations. And, best of all, this building required no state funding for construction. This combination of smarter financing and cost-saving represents progress in the way the UW is doing business.

"The building-contracting method is a win-win for all parties. We are very pleased that the University received a building that satisfies all of the research performance characteristics required for the lowest cost," explains Andy Casillas, the Ben Hall Building project manager. "This contract calls for the continuation of the design-build method with the tenant improvements allowing researchers, once identified, to quickly move into the facilities. The target turnaround is nine months from tenant selection to move-in."

The Green Features

Here are some of the energy-efficient, environmentally friendly design features that helped the Ben Hall Building receive the LEED-CS Pilot Gold certification.

Contamination removal:
Previously, the building site was used as a parking lot, and then the project team discovered it contained contaminated landfill. Prior to construction of the Ben Hall Building, the project team removed 128 cubic yards of contaminated soil.


  • Underground parking eliminates the heat island effect caused by surface parking. It also provides preferred parking for carpools.
  • Building occupants have access to secure bicycle storage and changing/shower facilities to encourage them to commute by bicycle.

Water efficiency:

  • The selection of native or low-water-use plants will reduce landscape watering usage by 43 percent.
  • Installation of energy-efficient plumbing will reduce indoor water use by 38 percent.

Materials and resources:

  • 93 percent of construction waste was diverted from the landfill.
  • Recycled content material comprised 23 percent of the total construction cost for materials.

Indoor environmental quality:

  • Refrigerating and air-conditioning systems are free of the ozone-depleting chemicals, like HCFC and Halon.
  • Carbon dioxide monitoring and interior paints and coatings comply with low volatile organic compound and chemical component limits of Green Seal’s Standard GS-11 requirements.
  • Interior carpet systems exceed the requirements of the Carpet and Rug Institute’s Green Label Indoor Air Quality Test Program.

The Cost Savings

The designer-builder team had a strong incentive to find ways to keep costs low. The following examples explain why and also demonstrate how they were able to deliver the Ben Hall Building on time and within budget.

The DBOM agreement:
The design-build-operate-maintain (DBOM) agreement used on this project obligated the designers and builders to operate and maintain the building at a guaranteed price during the 30-year contract. Building life-cycle costs drove the decisions about what building materials and systems to use, which helped the designer-builder team beat cost predictions. The DBOM approach also resulted in a better asset for the University because long-term building maintenance can be performed without draining scarce resources.

Efficient planning:

  • The project contains a highly efficient mechanical design that allowed the builders to lower floor-to-floor heights, creating an additional 6,500 square feet of usable space. This higher square footage resulted in lower operations and maintenance costs per square foot.
  • The 13-foot, 6-inch floor-to-floor height (lowered from 15 feet) allowed the builder to increase the number of floors from five to six, resulting in a total of 95,000 square feet of usable space. This exceeded the original building requirements by approximately 10,000 square feet.
  • The designer-builder team used 3-D/4-D computer modeling to virtually construct the building beforehand.


  • Heat energy recovery of general exhaust air, energy-efficient light systems and lighting controls, and variable frequency drives on air fans should result in a 30 percent reduction in base building energy costs.
  • The two-pipe system in the air supply units uses a combination chilled/heating water system that includes a runaround heat recovery loop that eliminated half of the cost of piping for the building.
  • During construction, the builders reduced number of onsite cranes and laborers by prefabricating ductwork and equipment off site in sections so they could just lift and connect the sections once those arrived on site.

Funding and financial benefits:

Oftentimes a new building requires a concerted, time-consuming fundraising effort that relies on both public and private support. To finance the Ben Hall Building, the University took a different approach:

  • The UW issued general revenue bonds to finance the building and most of the tenant-requested improvements. These bonds will be repaid largely through revenue generated by research grants.
  • The building is not restricted to a specific unit or college. Any UW researcher with a robust or growing grant portfolio can request space in the Ben Hall Building. This approach rewards success and creates an incentive for increasing sponsored research.
  • Research space can be constructed very quickly compared with other delivery methods.

"New research initiatives will be able to use the Ben Hall Interdisciplinary Building like an incubator facility," explains Casillas. "Once the initiative takes off, the research team can move on to larger commercially available space and make room for the next prospective tenant."

Looking to the Future

The Ben Hall Building raises the bar for all future construction projects associated with the UW. It provides a proven template for finding creative ways to help save costs—and the environment!


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