Fish and Wildlife Service, Vermont

Project Point of Contact

Andrew French, FWS
Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge, VT
(413) 548-8002
andrew_french@fws.gov

Project Summary

The Nulhegan Basin Administration Building and Visitor Contact Center at the Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge is the first Energy Star Building for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and achieved a Silver designation under the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design for Existing Buildings version 2.0 rating standard.  The building:

  • Prevented disturbance of existing ecosystem resources by using a previously altered building site.

  • Uses daylighting, energy-efficient lighting and occupancy sensors throughout, operable windows, and a high-efficiency furnace to optimize energy performance.

  • Saved 23,390 BTUs, $4,242 per year compared to similar buildings, and 4,700 gallons of water in FY 2007.

  • Use of 200 million BTUs of renewable energy in FY 2007.

  • Made extensive use of local building materials such as Vermont slate flooring and local quarter-sawn clapboards for exterior siding.

  • Used rapidly renewable resources such as glue-laminated columns and beams for structural members reduced the need to harvest old growth trees.

  • Salvaged wood counters from the site's previous building for use in the lobby.

  • Used high recycled content materials in the carpet, ceiling tiles and gypsum wallboard.

  • Avoided use of materials that produce toxins during their manufacture, use, and disposal to ensure the health of building occupants.

  • Used paint systems and formaldehyde-free products that guarantee excellent indoor air quality and do not emit harmful gases.

  • Landscaping uses native plant species and low-flow fixtures conserves water.

This Nulhegan Center demonstrates the feasibility of sustainable building design for small visitor facilities.  Subsequent to this project's success, several more Refuges are contemplating similar designs.

Nulhegan Basin Administration Building and Visitor Contact Facility
Photo Caption: Nulhegan Basin Administration Building &
Visitor Contact Facility

Project Description

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's sustainable Nulhegan Basin Administration Building and Visitor Contact Facility at the Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge, Vermont, was constructed on a formerly used site.  It is the Service's first Energy Star Building.  Daylighting, energy-efficient lighting and occupancy sensors throughout, together with operable windows and a high-efficiency furnace optimize energy performance.   Landscaping with native plant species and use of low-flow fixtures conserves water.  A total of 23,390 BTU/gsf (from the industry average) and 4.7 thousands of gallons of water were saved in FY 2007, and 200 million BTU in renewable energy was used.  Local materials such as Vermont slate flooring and local quarter-sawn clapboards for exterior siding were used extensively.  Rapidly renewable resources such as glue-laminated columns and beams for structural members reduced the need to harvest old growth trees.  Wood counters salvaged from the site's previous building were used in the lobby.  Materials in carpet, ceiling tiles and gypsum wallboard have a high recycled content.  Further, materials that produce toxins during their manufacture, use, and disposal were avoided to ensure the health of building occupants.  Paint systems and formaldehyde-free products that emit no harmful gases guarantee excellent indoor air quality.  On April 25, 2008, the building was awarded a LEED Silver designation under LEED EB v2.0.  It has since won several more architectural design awards.

Narrative

Overview

Named after the long-time Massachusetts Congressman and conservationist, Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge was established in 1997 to conserve, protect and enhance the abundance and diversity of native plant, fish and wildlife species (over 462 species of concern) and the ecosystems on which they depend throughout the 7.2 million acre Connecticut River watershed, which covers large areas of Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Connecticut. It contains a great diversity of habitats, notably: northern forest that is valuable as nesting habitat for migrant thrushes, warblers and other birds; rivers and streams used by shad, salmon, herring and other migratory fish; and an internationally significant complex of high-quality tidal fresh, brackish and salt marshes. The Refuge works in partnership with a wide variety of individuals and organizations such as expanded Partners for Wildlife and Challenge Cost Share programs to provide environmental education, encourage and support appropriate habitat conservation and management on public and private lands, and protect additional habitat.  The Refuge currently consists of seven Units (small tract) and two Divisions (large tract) parcels.  This facility is located on the 26,000-acre Nulhegan Basin Division in Essex County, Vermont. 

Great Room at Nulhegan Basin Administration Building and Visitor Contact Facility
Photo Caption: Nulhegan Basin Administration Building & Visitor Contact
Facility Interior View Great Room.  Photos taken by: Kim Roseberry,
Courtesy of Oak Point Associates, Biddeford, Maine.

Administration Building and Visitor Contact Facility

The energy-efficient and sustainable 8,324 square-feet (ft2) Nulhegan Basin Administration Building and Visitor Contact Facility was constructed on a formerly used site.  It is the Service's first Energy Star Building!  Daylighting, energy-efficient lighting and occupancy sensors throughout, together with operable windows and a high-efficiency furnace optimize energy performance.  Landscaping with native plant species and use of low-flow fixtures conserves water.  Local materials such as Vermont slate flooring and local quarter-sawn clapboards for exterior siding were used extensively.  Rapidly renewable resources such as glue-laminated columns and beams for structural members reduced the need to harvest old growth trees.  Wood counters salvaged from the site's previous building were used in the lobby.  Materials in carpet, ceiling tiles and gypsum wallboard have a high recycled content.  Further, materials that produce toxins during their manufacture, use, and disposal were avoided to ensure the health of building occupants.  Paint systems and formaldehyde-free products that emit no harmful gases guarantee excellent indoor air quality.  On April 25, 2008, the building was awarded a LEED Silver designation under LEED EB v2.0.

  1. Energy and/or Water Savings

    In November 2007, the Nulhegan Basin Administration Building and Visitor Contact Facility became the Service's first Energy Star Building!  Energy performance is optimized (and the building's carbon footprint is minimized) by a high-efficiency furnace and energy-efficient lighting.  Programmable controls for setback during unoccupied times and a complete high-efficiency lighting system with "green tip" T-8 lamps, electronic ballasts, task lighting, LED exit lights, and occupancy and daylight sensors reduce the amount of energy used for artificial lighting.  Passive solar energy features are built in to the design.  The building takes advantage of natural ventilation, with operable windows allowing outside air to be used for passive cooling, thereby connecting occupants with outdoor temperatures and humidity cycles.  The building's mechanical ventilation system ensures that all building occupants receive enough fresh air.  The offices and the lobby space have plenty of daylighting and views of the Refuge.  Coupled with the building's superinsulation, "low E" windows, and high-performance glazing, remarkable energy and cost savings during the first year of operation were achieved, based on an Energy Star analysis of November 16, 2007.  The analysis showed the building consumed energy equivalent to $1.42 ft2/year, which is -26 percent less the industry average of $1.93 ft2/year.  Current energy intensity at the site was 65,130 BTU/ft2 , which is 23,390 BTU/ft2 less than the industry average.  The building will save approximately 17.24 tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year less than the industry average.

    Water conservation is very important to the Service, which is reflected in this facility.  Native plant species were selected to increase areas of local habitat and to ensure that no potable water would be used for irrigation.  Although water comes from a well on-site, low-flow plumbing fixtures were specified to conserve water resources.  The building's plumbing fixtures are calculated to be 37% more efficient than a typical building.  Since Best Management Practices for water conservation are in place, the facility would save an estimated 4.68 thousands of gallons of water annually compared to a standard office building of the similar size.  A standard building is calculated to be a building with water use of 120% of EPACT requirements.

  2. Cost Savings

    Energy use is $11,811 versus an industry average of $16,053 per year for similar buildings.  This is a cost savings of $4,242 per year.

  3. Use of Renewable Energy/Alternative Fuels

    Although the Service looked at the option of providing electricity from renewable energy systems, such as solar photovoltaic power and wind energy generation, the project's budget could not support the cost of such initial investment.  However, the facility does have an EPA-approved wood-burning fireplace (biomass) for auxiliary building heat.  If 10 cords of wood were burned in the fireplace, an estimated 200 million BTUs would be saved.

  4. Sustainable/Whole Building Approach

    On April 25, 2008, the building was awarded a LEED Silver designation under LEED EB v2.0.  Designers took a whole-building approach to sustainability with extensive use of regional, recycled, salvaged, low-emitting, and non-toxic materials.  The importance of rapidly renewable resources was emphasized.  Sustainable features are:

    • Recycled Content of Materials: Carpet, ceiling tiles and gypsum wallboard were all specified to have a high level of recycled content, thereby reducing the demand on harvesting virgin materials and the burden on area landfills.

    • Regional Materials: Vermont slate flooring was specified from a nearby quarry.  Quarter-sawn clapboards were used as exterior siding, supplied by a local mill.  Regional materials help to support local economies and reduce the amount of fossil fuels used to transport goods over long distances.

    • Rapidly Renewable Resources: Glue-laminated columns and beams were used as the structural system in the public spaces because they can be built up from smaller stock lumber, thereby reducing the need to harvest old growth trees used in solid timber construction.

    • Salvaged Materials: Wood counters, salvaged from the site's previous building, were used in the lobby.  Salvaged materials reduce the use of undisturbed resources.

    • Low-Emitting Materials: Paint systems have zero harmful VOC gases, ensuring the health of the applicator and building occupants.  Formaldehyde-free products were used to prevent harmful off-gassing from polluting indoor air.

    • Non-toxic Materials: Materials that produce toxins during their manufacture, during their use, and at the end of their useful lives were avoided to ensure the health of building occupants.

  5. Environmental and/or Non-Energy Benefits

    The project team used innovative approaches to maximize use of an existing site.  They successfully overcame budgetary and management obstacles to install the most environmentally efficient HVAC alternative feasible in their study while ensuring occupant comfort. The project went smoothly and was completed on schedule.

    • Brownfield Redevelopment: This facility was positioned on a site that had been disturbed by previous development.  The site's previous development included commercial use and waste disposal.  Using the brownfield site allowed the refuge's natural habitat to be left in an undisturbed state.

    • Light pollution reduction: Site lighting was kept the minimum levels required for safety.  Fixtures were chosen that direct light downward to ensure the visual access to the night sky and to prevent the disruption of nocturnal animal habitats.

    • Biophilic Design: The building provides many connections between occupants and the natural environment, through views, walkways and daylight.  The occupant is sheltered, but never far from nature.  Visual and tactile experiences connect people with nature.  Native vegetation, trees and planted areas increase the chance that a building occupant will see a native bird or butterfly.  These experiences remind us of the interconnectedness of the resources of the world, and they help us to be better stewards of our natural resources.

    The theme of the exhibit hall at the Visitor contact station is "The Nulhegan Basin -- Sculpted by Nature, Worked by Human Hands -- A Unique Landscape Conserved for Habitat, Wildlife, and People."  Visitors will learn more about the cultural history of the basin, Division partners, Division research, geology and geography, habitat management, the watershed, the Refuge System, and northern forest habitats and species.

  6. Institutionalization and Transferability

    This project serves as a model illustrating and educating the feasibility of sustainability in a small visitor facility.  Subsequent to this project's success, several more projects are contemplating similar designs.  For example, the Service is planning to use a site-adapted version of the Nulhegan building design at a project at Ohio River Islands NWR, West Virginia.  Success in this project has instilled confidence in these alternatives for future projects.  Other Service Regions will no doubt follow this sterling example of a successful sustainable project.

  7. Outreach Activities:

    The Refuge intends to erect a display in the visitor contact facility praising the benefits of sustainability and energy efficiency, showcasing the outstanding results achieved.   Not only will this display educate the public, but also it will stress the need for energy conservation in general.  In addition, the Refuge intends to put these results and the outcome of this award nomination into congressional accomplishment reports.  The Refuge will work with the Region's External Affairs staff and "Friends of the Silvio O. Conte NFWR" to publicize the positive results of the project and the outcome of this award nomination, if successful.  If this project wins an energy award, it will be publicized in the Department of the Interior publication, "People Land, and Water" and the Service's publication, "Refuge News."  "People Land, and Water" is read by all Departmental employees, and both are available to partners and outside stakeholders. This project is in a series of award-winning sustainable facilities designed and constructed by the

  8. Innovative New Technology/Technology Transfer Service's Northeast Region. 

    It represents a new approach to Service design and construction, embracing sustainable design to achieve smaller high performance buildings.  The design team did not take the easier path by procuring "off-the-shelf," commercially available technologies and applying the same "old school" standard practices.  They demonstrated energy leadership in the truest sense.  They have become champions of sustainable design.

  9. Adequacy of Information

    This analysis was based upon data obtained from the A/E firm, product manufacturers and actual energy use data after the project was completed.  It is likely that the payback years will be less than anticipated with the increasing high costs of fossil fuels.