Concrete At Heart Of Eco-friendly Buildings

By Jerry Rhoden | September 28, 2010

Edited by Mike Larson

Aldo Leopold would be proud.

The name of the late environmentalist, often called the father of American conservation, now graces the Aldo Leopold Legacy Center in Baraboo, Wis., which sits at the forefront ofusing concrete in environmentally friendly design.

The Leopold Center scored the most points of any building rated to date under the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Rating System, making it the most ecologically friendly structure in America.

The LEED Green Building Rating System is a stringent, voluntary set of guidelines that incorporate sustainability and environmental efficiency into buildings. Projects are rated as LEED-Certified if they achieve 26 points of a possible 69; LEED-Silver at 33 points; LEED-Gold at 39; and LEED-Platinum at 52.

Adherence to LEED principles can lead to dramatically reduced energy costs while enhancing designers' most-desired attributes.

According to The Masonry Society, masonry can influence up to 24 LEED points. County Materials, a Midwestern manufacturer of concrete construction and landscaping products, ensures close proximity via multiple locations, offering one way concrete products have contributed to LEED-related projects.

Concrete Helps Leopold Center Set Record

For the Leopold center, County Materials manufactured 600 feet of 24-inch-diameter reinforced concrete pipe to serve as "earth tubes" that allow the surrounding soil to naturally warm and cool the air that is pumped into the 12,000-square-foot office-and-meeting facility. These tubes are buried 8 feet deep, where the earth maintains a steady temperature in the mid 50-degree range.

"We definitely didn't want water coming in, so County Materials' concretepipe came highly recommended," said Louie Meister, owner of LMS Construction, Pardeeville, which installed the pipe. "With today's energy costs, a lot of companies are trying to keep costs down. So there's a lot of interest in this."

Concrete 'Golden' In School

When Jody Andres of Appleton's Hoffman LLC designed the new Northland Pines High School for Eagle River, the old high school resembled a 30-year-old barracks.

"We wanted to say everything that the old building didn't say," said Andres.

The new 251,000-square-foot school is a study in sustainable design. With at least two windows in each classroom and clerestory windows throughout, the facility is lit by sunshine that never penetrated the old bunker.

Andres chose 33,700 units of County Materials' splitface concrete masonry in sandy color and 137,500 pieces of County Materials' concrete brick in both sandy and red-toned hues. The mix of colors allowed a subtle-yet-noticeable contrast that went well with a nearby building while taking on a character all its own.

Andres said concrete masonry played a key role in the design goal of LEED-Gold, which should realize energy savings of 40 percent over code.

"Part of the reason we used concrete brick was it was locally produced, and we needed the durability," the designer said. "It gave us a savings over clay, and it works better with other concrete masonry. I know the mason found it easy to work with."

DNR Takes 'Gold'

Although designed to be understated, the Northeast Regional Headquarters of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources has made a splash in a whole different way.

The three-story office near Green Bay earned LEED-Gold with the help of concrete veneer. The facility used nearly 50,000 pieces of County Stone® masonry units to cover the exterior of its 34,560-square-foot office and a 15,500-square-foot detached service building.

In holding to such tight environmental guidelines, the structure became Wisconsin's first state-owned and operated office building to adhere to LEED standards.

"We were able to achieve energy savings of 55 to 57 percent over code," said Ian Griffiths of Berners-Schober Associates Inc. in Green Bay.

Mead Wildlife Center Draws Praise

In the village of Milladore, just northwest of Stevens Point, the Stanton W. Mead Education & Visitor Center at the Mead Wildlife Area has drawn praise both written and spoken.

In early 2006, Gov. Jim Doyle presented architect Tom Brown with the Excellence in Sustainable Design & Construction Award for his work on the facility. Brown has called it "probably the greenest building the state owns right now."

The center uses wind, solar and geothermal sources to minimize the amount of energy required to light, heat and cool the building. It features 35,000 County Pavers® from County Materials, as well as 600 units of County Block® Retaining Wall. The building's façade features more than 4,500 units of County Stone veneer, and nearly 177 cubic yards of ready-mix concrete went into its flooring and structure.

"Concrete construction products can contribute toward our goal," Brown said of the 6,208-square-footfacility, which is registered as a LEED NC (New Construction) 2.1 project and is in the process for possible LEED-Gold certification.

County Materials operates 30 locations serving the Midwest. The family-owned manufacturing company is an industry leader and a diversified supplier of construction and landscaping products for residential, commercial, industrial, and municipal project applications.