When it opened its doors in 1967, the Sputnik Science Center at St. Olaf College, a private liberal arts school located in Northfield, Minn., was a state-of the-art facility. However, after servicing thousands of students for almost four decades, the building was in need of extensive modernization.

“The college's goal is to renovate its buildings on 40-year cycles, and a major renovation of the Science Center was necessary,” says Pete Sandberg, assistant vice president for facilities at St. Olaf. “On top of that, science education and research have evolved far more than the building was intended to support.”

Faced with a choice between renovating a structure that still wouldn't adequately sustain the school's science program or constructing a new complex to meet present and future science requirements, the college chose the latter option.

The first phase of the $63 million St. Olaf Science Complex broke ground in December 2006 and has an estimated completion date of September 2008. The complex will comprise a new 180,000-square-foot structure plus 23,000 square feet of renovated space in the school's existing Old Music Hall, with a link between the two facilities. St. Olaf is known for its commitment to environmental conservation, and this project is no exception.

“The design goal for the building is LEED Gold,” says Sandberg. “Virtually every material, system, and process was fully evaluated with the intention of achieving the highest level of sustainability that was practical.”

According to Sandberg, high fly ash-containing concrete, Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)-certified wood, and low volatile organic compound (VOC) materials are just some of the green products being used in the Science Complex.

In addition, Muska Electric, lead electrical subcontractor for the project based in Roseville, Minn., is ensuring the facility's electrical systems are environmentally responsible. An automated lighting control system with daylight sensors provides proper lighting levels and sends an occupied signal to the building's HVAC systems for temperature control when the space is being used. Furthermore, an integrated switchgear and metering package helps conserve space and supplies accurate real-time use of energy consumption.

“We also made it our goal to staff this project with as many employees as possible who lived in the area, including electricians from the Local 110 IBEW,” says Steve Strafelda, senior project manager for Muska Electric. “We are purchasing materials from vendors with close proximity to the construction location, and we have used wind power when possible for temporary construction and permanent power.”

Strafelda further notes that the project is employing a 10-hour, four-day workweek. “The 10-hour day provides a 20% saving of transportation costs for the construction workers, provides them with another day of family time each week, and allows an extra day of quiet time on campus,” he says.