Student Union Achieves LEED Gold for Green Building Practices

Student Union Building

Las Vegas, N.M – New Mexico Highlands University’s new Student Union Building was certified as LEED Gold for its state-of-the-art green building features like ground-source technology to help heat and cool the building and large computerized external shades that maximize natural light while helping regulate building temperature.

The 67,000-square-foot student union opened in Spring 2013 at the northwest corner of National Avenue and 8th St. This February, the U.S. Green Building Council gave the building its top certification for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.

Highlands University’s track record for green building and remodeling practices garnered four other LEED certifications over the past several years. In 2012, Highlands was the only university in the state to be honored for sustainable building practices by New Mexico Business Weekly.

“The student union is an exceptionally innovative green building success story that assures energy and water efficiencies, while providing an outstanding indoor and outdoor aesthetic experience for the campus and larger community,” said Sylvia Baca, interim facilities and planning director. “The building is filled with natural light and is a pleasant environment to study, work, eat, shop and visit.”  

Some green highlights of the student union include:

• Ground source geoexchange technology helps heat and cool the building, saving 30.9 percent in the typical electric and gas costs for a building of its size that doesn’t employ this cutting-edge technology.

• Computerized external metal sunshades for the expansive south and west glass windows maximize natural light and help maintain a steady temperature.

• Low-flow plumbing fixtures conserve 41.3 percent of the potable water used in the bathrooms, while a 30,000-gallon underground cistern is used for the drought-tolerant landscaping.

• 96.8 percent of the total waste generated onsite during construction was recycled, including metal, concrete, wood, gypsum board, and more.

• 23 percent of the building was constructed using recycled materials.

Baca said that because of the student union’s energy efficiency, in 2013 the university received a $26,806 rebate from Public Service Company of New Mexico as part of PNM’s incentive program for reducing electrical usage.

“The student union continues our university’s ongoing commitment to ensure that all new construction and remodels are designed to LEED standards to reduce environmental impact and save energy,” said Jim Fries, Highlands University president. “Sustainability is a great example of doing the right thing and doing things right, all at the same time.”

Fries noted that the university initiated a campus-wide Sustainability Program in 2007 under the leadership of Marisol Greene, the facilities and planning director at the time.

Since then, other university buildings receiving LEED Gold include major remodeling projects for the Felix Martinez Building, Lora Shields Building, and the Natatorium, the swimming pool.             

In 2010, the Highlands Viles & Crimmins Residence Hall was the first university dormitory in the state to earn the LEED Silver certification. The 100,000-square-foot state-of-the-art residence hall opened in 2009.

Studio Southwest Architects and Diamond Schmitt Architects designed the Student Union Building in a joint venture. The project architects are Rich Braun, a principal with Studio Southwest, and Martin Davidson, a principal with Diamond Schmitt. 

The contemporary three-story design is organized around a central atrium. It uses brick as the building base, with full-height glazed glass panels providing ample natural light for the main public spaces and the offices. A Corten steel panel system along the exterior perimeter completes the building skin.

Franken Construction completed the Student Union Building. 

“Another fantastic sustainability feature of the student union is that because its skin is made up of the Corten steel, windows and brick, it won’t require external painting, which is toxic to the environment,” Baca said. 

The student union includes a dining facility for the residence halls, ballroom, flexible theater space that can also be used for lectures and dances, executive boardroom for campus governance groups, campus bookstore, campus post office, computer lab, two classrooms, conference space, game room, Einstein Bros. Bagels, and a convenience store.

The building also houses university offices for Campus Life, Housing, International Education Center, Native American Student Services, Campus Violence Prevention Program, and student government.

One design highlight is a skywalk that connects the student union to the adjacent Donnelly Library.

“The student union is the heart of our campus, and its high-visibility location makes it a bridge between Highlands and the Las Vegas community,” Fries said.