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    Amid an idyllic, pastoral scene  of grain silos, a barn and a field of sunflowers, the shimmering building comes into view – angular and modern with corrugated steel siding, bordered by native grasses and wetlands, a green vegetated roof and a whirling wind generator jutting up into a blue sky.

    It’s the last thing one expects to see in this undulating landscape of rolling hills in rural Southeastern Ohio. Yet for residents of Hocking County and the 125 students attending this innovative educational institute, the building represents more than cutting-edge, green design. It is a path to a vibrant future, an on-ramp to the green economy. 

    “The building itself is not just your average building, it’s a working lab. There is a tremendous amount of technology around the students as they train,” said Jerry Hutton, dean of the Hocking College Energy Institute. “I see this building as a real stake-in-the-ground for this community and this region to show that we can bring back the manufacturing sector and higher-paying jobs.”

    Hutton launched the program in 2002 on Hocking College’s main campus in Nelsonville with just three students studying advanced energy and fuel cells. In 2004, the vehicular hybrid program was added, followed by a plug-in program and additional training programs in wind and solar. Enrollment continues to grow and reached 125 for the 2009-10 academic year.

    “The whole building is alive with the actual technology,” said Dr. Roy Palmer, senior vice president of Hocking College, who has worked in technical education since 1967. “The building represents Hocking College coming into this technology in a tangible way. We’ve had these classes in old surroundings that were updated minimally, but this new site is built for this technology and with it. The building demonstrates it.”

    The Power of Design

    “Make it look weird,” is how Jerry Hutton, dean of the Hocking College Energy Institute, distilled down his design vision to architect Jack Hedge of the DesignGroup. “I knew it had to be a working lab. I didn’t want some building that looked like the Taj Mahal.”

    Indeed. The Energy Institute is no Taj Mahal, but at 12,000 square feet, it represents the future of green building and the latest trends in learning environments. And, it will be the first higher education building in Ohio to earn Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Platinum certification from the U.S. Green Building Council.

    In the design, the function of the building was considered down to the very last detail. For example, because classrooms will often require access to large industrial equipment, the front door of the building is large enough to drive a Prius through.

    Additionally, there’s very little carpet; a sealed concrete floor cuts down on the cost of materials and long-term maintenance. It is illustrative of the mantra of green building: Less material equals less waste.

    Aesthetically, the result is brilliant. Hip, with an industrial, clutter-free feel. Even before construction finished, the awards started coming. Real Estate & Construction Review named it one of the best new green projects in the Midwest. Yet, despite the accolades, the Energy Institute is an example of design with sensitivity to cost. 

    It was done on a shoestring budget,” said Keoni Fleming, LEED AP, project architect at DesignGroup.

    And a challenging one to put together, especially in a time of plunging endowments, rising tuition and state budget cuts. Not the best time to make a case for sustainable design. But at $200 per square foot, it matches the average cost for an academic building.

    “Up and running, it will cost half as much to operate as a normal building. In fact, saving $10,000 a year in energy costs,” said Fleming.

    It was a budget pieced together with a little bit of luck and good timing. And along the way, as new grants came in, changes to the design were inevitable. Robertson Construction and project manager Scott Siegel approached those changes as opportunities, retaining a collaborative attitude toward the entire process. “We wanted to do everything we could to make this innovative project happen,” Siegel said.

    That dedication didn’t go unnoticed. “We found some extra grant money along the way and made additions to the project – including a wind turbine, a natural gas filling station and plug-in recharging stations in the parking lot,” said Hutton.  “If Robertson had given me heartburn over these changes, it would have been very difficult to get this completed. But they took it in stride and stayed focused on getting the job done on time and on budget.”

    Hutton added, “Robertson has been very good to work with and flexible too. We sat and talked, collaborated and managed those changes - back and forth. And along the way, when other changes came up, they just took care of them, no questions asked.”