Discovery Center earns nod for energy-efficiency

By Corene Brisendine

City officials celebrated the first anniversary of the opening of the Flint Hills Discovery Center Wednesday by announcing that the facility has received a gold level Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification in construction and design.

The award is presented to structures that meet standards of reduced heating and cooling costs and energy efficiency.

City manager Ron Fehr said during a media briefing at the center that the steering committee and the design team had always planned to create a LEED-certified building because it not only saved the city money in operating costs, but also fit in with what the facility was about. Fehr said the building stands as a model for other commercial and residential builders in the area on how to build long-lasting, energy efficient buildings in the Manhattan community.

The Discovery Center was opened last April. Officials plan a public event at the center April 13 that will include installation of a plaque noting the LEED achievement.

Cost-saving features include geothermal wells beneath the building and in the courtyard that are used to heat and cool the building. Fehr said this design flattens the peaks and troughs seen during standard cooling and heating of buildings as the seasons change.

Fitting with the Discovery Center’s goal, native plants and grasses were used in landscaping inside and outside. The native plants were also used on the roof and patios to create a filtering system for storm water runoff. In addition to plants, porous blocks allow the water to seep into holding cells; impurities are filtered so the water can be returned to the ground rather than running off into storm drains and eventually into area creeks and rivers. Fehr said using native plants reduced the cost of maintenance. 

Inside the building, low-voltage lighting and LED lighting was installed to also reduce energy costs. As a result, the lighting needs to be replaced less often and uses less electricity. Materials and labor used in building the center were sourced from within 50 miles of Manhattan. Materials were also recycled when possible, and after completion, recycling receptacles were installed throughout the building to promote environmental awareness.

The gold certification is one step lower than the highest achievable level, platinum. Fehr said the project committees chose the gold level because it was more cost-effective. He said while the platinum level is more efficient, it has a higher initial cost in construction, making it a less attractive option for the city.

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