Net-Zero UI Urbana Campus Aims for Top Sustainability Ratings

URBANA, Ill. — The University of Illinois will soon add a $95 million, net-zero engineering facility to its Urbana campus. The Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) Building, which will serve an estimated 2,500 students upon completion, has been under construction since January 2012 and aims to welcome students in August 2014.

At 230,000 square feet, the ECE Building will nearly double its original home and greatly expand the department’s physical capabilities. The terra cotta structure will provide office space for an estimated 120 faculty members, and comprise state of the art laboratories, classrooms and project spaces. Here, students will explore fields including optical physics, electromagnetism and thin film and charged particles, among others.

Designed to reduce the department’s environmental impact and reach its net-zero goal, the building will also utilize a variety of energy efficient systems and sustainable materials. The roof will eventually hold 1,200 solar panels estimated to provide roughly 300 kilowatts of energy. Meanwhile LED lights will be used across 70 percent of the building, reducing its energy consumption. An innovative chilled beam cooling system will also be used to throughout, while careful orientation, window shading, heat recovery systems and a high R-value envelope will ensure a comfortable and efficient interior year-round.

According to a statement by architects SmithGroup JJR, the building will also help streamline the department, consolidating it into one two-wing, multi-story building, and “creating a flexible environment to inspire and support interdisciplinary learning and collaboration.” According to Andy Vazzano, FAIA, LEED AP, leader of SmithGroup’s Corporate Science & Technology Practice, "This new building is where future innovations and sustainable research practices are imagined and refined."

Designers from SmithGroup JJR Chicago and consultants from KJWW Engineering Consultants of Rock Island are confident the ECE building will earn LEED Platinum certification, joining the school’s Business Instructional Facility. They also expect an EPA Energy Star rating of 99 on a 100-point scale, and that the building will serve as a prototype for future sustainably built additions to the university’s network of campuses, and help it work toward a goal of carbon neutrality by 2050.

ECE Department Head Andreas C. Cangellaris also spoke highly of the new facility in a statement. "This building will be a great benefit to our students,” said Cangellaris, “not only in the ECE Department, but in our college and beyond. This new building is designed to inspire engineering education driven by societal needs and opportunities. With these new facilities and labs, we will continue to educate the leaders in our profession for generations to come."

Construction of the ECE building is projected to cost the school roughly $71 million, while the entire cost is estimated at $95 million. The school will provide half of the total cost, while private donations and state funds will cover the remainder.