Western Washington University breaks ground on carbon neutral academic building

Western Washington University in Bellingham has broken ground on a nearly $74 million electrical engineering and computer science building, the first carbon neutral academic facility in the region.

Kaiser Borsari Hall is a "smart building" meant to exceed LEED standards for energy use, carbon, and other environmental indicators.

Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, is a rating system developed by the United States Green Building Council to encourage sustainable design and construction practices for buildings.

“The design of Kaiser Borsari Hall is a watershed moment for Washington state public facilities as the first all mass timber, zero-energy, and carbon neutral building on a university campus,” Anthony Gianopoulos, principal-in-charge at Perkins&Will, which designed the facility, said in a news release regarding Tuesday’s groundbreaking.

Internationally acclaimed sustainable design expert Jason McLennan is leading the building’s zero carbon design strategy. WWU will pursue the building’s certification through the International Living Future Institute.

The building will join a handful of other carbon neutral academic buildings in the nation, including Colby College in Waterville, Maine, Middlebury College in Middlebury, Vermont, Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, and American University in Washington, D.C.

Plans call for the Kaiser Borsari Hall to include teaching spaces, experiential learning environments, teaching labs, learning research labs, active learning classrooms, collaborative space, and an academic administrative space.

Solar panels on the roof will generate all the 54,000-square-foot, four-story building’s electrical power, while local, sustainably harvested wood will be incorporated as part of the design to reduce the facility’s carbon footprint.

Another planned feature is a skybridge connecting Kaiser Borsari Hall to the university’s Communications Facility. Connecting the two buildings is meant to reduce costs and carbon impact, while also allowing insects and animal passage, according to WWU.

“The science and engineering facility that will rise on this site will be a place for collaboration, connection, and innovation, nurturing areas of study which will be critical to the future needs of Washington state industries, employers, and communities,” WWU President Sabah Randhawa said in the aforementioned news release.

The new building’s namesakes are Fred Kaiser and Grace Borsari, who gifted WWU $10 million – the largest donation in school history – to the project. They are business partners who founded Alpha Technologies, which supplies backup power equipment for the telecommunications industry.

Their donation wasn’t without some controversy, as Kaiser and Borsari were involved in a major federal tax evasion case nearly two decades ago. Their entwined corporations pleaded guilty in 2004 and were required to pay $36 million after federal prosecutors accused them of trying to avoid paying almost all taxes, as originally reported by The Western Front student newspaper.

WWU has a total undergraduate enrollment of approximately 14,000 students.

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