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Local Architect Uses Texas Civic Project to Exemplify Sustainability of Design

The new building at Collin College Technical Campus includes a number of design features that are meant to reduce water usage and improve the overall quality of the water throughout the property, which are critical in a state prone to heavy droughts. (Image courtesy of Perkins + Will)

Tony Schmitz, vice president and senior project manager at Dallas-based Hoefer Wysocki, has been leading the architecture and design firm’s sustainability initiatives across all sectors. With an academic foundation in environmental design, Schmitz has most recently taken his green building and design expertise to Collin College, in McKinney, Texas.

Sustainability features of the up-and-coming campus include improvements in the areas of water conservation, design strategies and efficient technologies.

At Collin College, Schmitz has made strides in the area of resource use reduction, primarily for water. As our most precious natural resource, water usage has recently come under scrutiny in the city of Dallas, where the city council unanimously passed the 2019 Water Conservation Plan. All of Schmitz’s projects have achieved or surpassed their goal of 40 percent water reduction for the last five years. This figure has become a standard for Schmitz, with a goal to increase to 50 percent water reduction and 100 percent for non-potable water reduction.

Tony Schmitz, Hoefer Wysocki

Schmitz, spoke to Texas Real Estate Business about the process of integrating sustainability into all facets of the building industry, as well as the larger role design plays in the construction of highly adaptable and efficient facilities. His edited responses are as follows:

Texas Real Estate Business: How important is sustainability in architecture and construction?

Tony Schmitz: Our industry, like many others, is changing and learning how to more efficiently manage our carbon footprints. For us, sustainability is an essential consideration because building-related construction accounts for more than two-thirds of the total waste generated in the U.S., according to the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) most recent data through 2017.

As of 2018, 63 percent of energy consumption was derived from the built environment — commercial, industrial and residential — with the balance in transportation. Focusing on sustainable construction of the built environment is the quickest way to make a significant impact.

In reviewing the human health aspects, beyond waste and pollution, we spend more than 80 percent of our lives inside buildings, so creating environments with natural light and safe materials ensures we tackle the root of the problem.

TREB: How are sustainability measures affecting Texas projects specifically? Is there more of a push for one type of green retrofitting vs. another?

Schmitz: Based on codes adopted by states and municipalities, the biggest initiatives are focused on energy-use reduction. Revised energy codes have moved consumption and resource management in a positive direction.

By focusing on well-designed building envelopes, more sophisticated MEP systems and the balanced use of daylight and LED lighting, Texas has made significant progress in reducing overall demand for energy within the built environment.

TREB: How important is water conservation in Texas? Is this a major issue and how is it incorporated into Collin College or other facilities you have worked on?

Schmitz: Texas endured the single-worst drought in its history during 2011. The reality is that some portions of the state have been in the “severe drought” category since 2004. As the state water plan notes, “Texas does not and will not have enough water to meet the needs of its people, its businesses and its agricultural enterprises.”

State officials estimate the agriculture industry lost $7.62 billion as a result of the drought. The cattle and cotton sectors reported devastating losses of $3.23 billion and $2.2 billion, respectively. What this tells us is that water has a dramatic effect on the state’s economy. A consistent struggle with water management could cost Texas over 1 million jobs and a massive outward migration.

The Collin College Technical Campus has taken several approaches to water management, but the two big successes have been with use reduction and water quality management. The site design includes a bioswale running through the campus where up to 85 percent of the overall site water, including roof drainage, will flow through prior to entering the city’s storm system.

The design improves the water quality more than a typical site drainage system by filtering it through plant media before leaving the site. It’s visibility also makes the water treatment system a key design element for the project.

The second success is in overall use reduction. The plumbing design for flush-and-flow water use has reduced potable water consumption by 55 percent through the installation of low-use fixtures. Improved landscaping that features native planting and updated irrigation systems has also reduced potable water use by 70
percent.

TREB: What kinds of larger institutions in Texas are really pushing green retrofits or construction? Are they more prevalent in one particular area of the state?

Schmitz: Generally, larger institutions with millions of square feet embrace use reduction strategies of both energy and water more steadfastly. Institutions such as hospital systems, universities, independent school districts and commercial campuses are some key participants.

These businesses are more plentiful in major metropolitan areas, so the most movement toward sustainable footprints is seen in big cities, but that does not mean rural areas are negligent to sustainability.

Long-term reduction of an operations budget is something that will ultimately interest any institution, and sustainable design strategies are increasingly highlighted as ways to save money and resources. This is  more prevalent now that sustainable design’s stigma of added costs has been repeatedly proven false.

TREB: How is sustainability incorporated into large-scale projects such as Collin College? What are the most useful water and energy conservation features for a large campus to consider?

Schmitz: I like to discuss sustainability by emphasizing that in the “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” slogan, “reduce” is intentionally first. Collin College demonstrates exceptional sustainable design strategies by implementing this thought process of reducing consumption above all else.

The building has positive site impacts with water management strategies. Water use reductions of 55 percent for flush-and-flow fixtures and 70 percent for landscape use have been achieved. Energy reduction strategies have produced improvements of 16 percent over code.

The building also provides a healthy environment for learning by focusing on safe building materials and appropriate daylight throughout the entirety of the 340,000-square-foot campus.

The best water reduction strategies within the building focus on the use of highly efficient plumbing fixtures that can perform the same or better while using less water. Native plants and more efficient irrigation systems greatly reduce the amount of water needed to maintain a healthy landscape.

TREB: Collin College has grown in student population, and it may continue to do so. How can sustainability be implemented to plan for the future and long-term growth of a large commercial property?

Schmitz: The team at Collin College had the foresight to create campuses that will support growth projections into the year 2050. Sustainable practices will greatly reduce the operational costs associated with this growth.

A key driver of true sustainability is reuse. As Collin College prepares for growth, planning for a population that is 30 years in the future requires designing with flexibility in mind. This allows for the environments to adapt as education and the student population both evolve. This reduces future costs for building and renovating new spaces.

TREB: What waste reduction strategies were implemented in the design/build of Collin College?

Schmitz: The first strategy was taking advantage of the site topography. The building is multi-level in that access is different from one side of the site to the other. We used this feature to bury a garage partially underground.

This strategy eliminated a significant amount of soil needing to be hauled off-site. For waste reduction, we partnered with a general contractor that has a construction waste and recycling program that keeps recycled products out of landfills.

The final strategy is a limited materials pallet within the interior design, which serves two functions. First, it limits the variety of materials used, which creates a cohesive and visually pleasing design. Second, the limited quantity of each material exposes most of the building’s systems, making them a teaching tool for the MEP and construction programs taught on campus.

TREB: Where can Texas real estate and construction practices improve in regards to sustainable building and design?

Schmitz: Many of the large contractors have embraced sustainable building design and construction methods. Some have covered even the smallest of details, such as replacing paper drawings with digital technology on the jobsite.

Larger evidence of this is seen in robust supplemental training programs. Contractors will teach staff ways to make positive environmental impacts within their portions of the process. Room for improvement can be found in subcontractor relationships by prioritizing the purchase and use of more sustainable materials as a requirement to pursue work together.

From the real estate and development side, working with municipalities from conceptual stages to develop citywide sustainable approaches can reduce the growth burden inflicted onto the city’s utility and roadway infrastructures.

— Interview by Taylor Williams. This article first appeared in the January 2020 issue of Texas Real Estate Business magazine. 

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