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SUNY-ESF’s Gateway Center

By Architerra | Syracuse, N.Y.


Sustainability is a moving target—continuously evolving, and demanding that we forget what we once knew and learn something new. And the Gateway Center acts as a prominent professor of sustainability.

The new building at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry (SUNY-ESF) transformed a barren parking lot into a striking symbol of climate action leadership. The three-story, 54,000-square-foot campus center provides a conference space, café, bookstore, and admissions and outreach offices. The spaces are unified by a sweeping concourse that supports students, faculty, and public gatherings.

Founded in 1911, SUNY-ESF is the nation’s oldest college dedicated solely to the study of the environment, so in 2009, the college adopted a visionary plan for achieving carbon neutrality within six years. The Gateway Center is a key cog in achieving that goal, housing a combined heat-and-power plant that significantly reduces carbon reductions while promoting energy independence. In fact, the building operates roughly 60 percent more efficiently than a similar one built to code.

“We want a building that embodies what we’re trying to teach our students,” said Michael Kelleher, executive director of energy and sustainability at the school. “The building is actually a teaching tool. It shows that we can make a commitment to the environment while making strides from a financial perspective.”

Energy-plus performance and LEED Platinum certification were required by SUNY-ESF and the State University Construction Fund.

“Every year from here on out, we’re saving in operating dollars,” he added. “The plant reduces our steam and electricity purchases, because we’re producing our own.”

The center’s bioclimatic design overcomes its narrow, sloping site and west-facing exposure by using passive solar design principles. Metal shingles and recycled concrete blocks are the principal exterior materials. Eight species of FSC-certified wood are used throughout the building, and it also features an intensive green roof with extensive wildlife displays.

“We have a wide variety of native plants and it’s visually very interesting,” Kelleher said. “Plus, it’s another chance for students to go up and learn about the system.”

Completed in September 2013, the building has already been operating for one year and is performing at expectations, added Kelleher. Enhanced student engagement is just a bonus.

“Our class projects let students analyze the decisions that were made to install these types of systems,” he said, which offers a rare treat as the pupils can critique their professors. “It opens their eyes to new opportunities.”

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