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This structure reflects the spirit of the college’s Environmental Program. The planning process, which was initiated long before construction began in November 1999, engaged everyone from the donors and president of the college to the faculty, staff and students. The 21,000-square-foot building has emerged as a three-dimensional incarnation of the Center’s sustainable curriculum — an exciting teaching tool as well as an environmentally friendly sound project.

Located on the edge of the college’s 189-acre preserve, it merges seamlessly with the natural environment. Everything about the facility — from the site design to the environmentally friendly building materials, from energy and water conservation issues to recycling and waste management — is grounded in principles of sustainability. For example, Catawba students implemented the waste reduction plan, recycling more that 86 percent of the construction waste. This facility represents now and to future generations Catawba College’s commitment to the conservation and sustainable use of the earth’s resources.

This facility, which opened in the fall of 2001, is a “green building” — a term that refers to its reduced impact on the environment through careful land use, building design and materials, and constructions strategies. Constructing a green building also involves something called “embodied energy,” that is, the energy needed to grow, harvest, extract and manufacture a building product. It even includes how far the products have to be transported. For example, from nearby Statesville. Finally, it involves the life span of the products. Long-lasting products impact the environment less because they need to be replaced less often. In addition, using recyclable products means that less material goes into the landfill.

The landscape was designed as an educational tool, a wildlife habitat and a model of conservation.

It provides a natural transition from the facility to the adjacent ecological preserve, blending the architecture into the natural surroundings.

The landscape design incorporates more than 110 species of native plants that occur in the foothills, piedmont and sand hills of the Carolinas. The use of native plants promotes resource and environmental conservation because these plants require less frequent maintenance, less or no use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, and no resource-robbing lawn turf.

Three wildlife ponds, numerous bogs, flowing streams and waterfalls form the central focus of the planted landscape.

The plan emphasizes plants that attract birds, butterflies and beneficial insects. Most were selected for their wildlife value.

Water conservation was a primary concern in the landscape design. Rainwater that comes off the roof provides the water for irrigation and for the streams and waterfall. It is stored in four 1,200-gallon cisterns.

The plants are watered by a drip irrigation system, which minimizes evaporation. By using this system and by using only native plants, only about 1/2 inch of water is required each week.

Western red cedar is used on the exterior. It is certifiable sustainable grown wood. That means the wood is grown in a manner that has minimal impact on the environment.

The piers use concrete with fly ash, a recycled product from the coal industry that makes the concrete fluid.

The facing on the building is made of recycled concrete block.

Geo-exchange System

The building is heated and cooled by a closed-loop geo-exchange system; that is, all the water pumped through the system is circulated and re-circulated through pipes without taking water from the aquifer. It consists of 40 vertical U-tubes, which were installed underground in the parking lot behind the Robertson College Community Center.

Geo-exchange is the most energy-efficient, environmentally clean and cost-effective space-conditioning system available, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

The ground-source heat pump system contains 27 water-to-air heat pumps installed in the corridor ceiling spaces. The cooling capacity of the water loop is 83 tons.

A heat recovery unit is used to capture energy from the building exhaust systems and provide supply makeup air for building pressurization and neutral air for indoor air quality.

An automation system maintains the indoor temperature at 72 degrees. At night and on weekends, the temperature automatically adjusts to use less energy.

Heating and cooling can be controlled off site by computer. Students can also access graphs on how the system is operating in the computer lab, making this energy-efficient system part of the educational process.

Photovoltaic Energy

Energy from the sun provides 10 percent of the electricity for the building.

Solar panels provide the energy that power the water heaters.

Photovoltaic panels on the roof collect solar energy, which is then stored in a battery system where it can be converted to alternating current to power the downstairs laboratory, the pumps for the ponds and the charger for the vehicle used on the ecological preserve. In addition, the photovoltaic system acts as a backup source of energy for other parts of the building.


     The stained cement floors are designed for easy maintenance because students enter this area after fieldwork on the preserve.

Student Lounge

     This area is furnished with pieces salvaged from other parts of the campus and reupholstered. The new upholstery is either completely biodegradable or constructed from 100-percent recycled yarns.

Small Conference Room

     The chairs in this room are made of 44-percent recycled content. They are also composed largely of recyclable materials, including steel, nylon and aluminum.

     The tables are made of wheat board, paperboard tubes and recycled rubber.

Preserve Workshop

     This is where the Gator — the vehicle that is used on the ecological preserve — is re-charged. Photovoltaic panels on the roof collect solar energy for this use.


The wood panels along the walls are designed to showcase the indigenous species that are abundant in North Carolina. The panels, which are made of plywood to save on the amount of hardwood used, have veneers of birch, oak, pecan, maple, and cherry.

The flooring in this space is native slate, chosen for its natural beauty and low maintenance. It absorbs heat in the winter, which lowers energy consumption.

The exposed pipes above are for re-circulating water through the heating and air conditioning system. Air flows through the larger ducts, and electricity flows through the smaller conduits.

The light track units allow the flexibility of having both direct light, which shines downward, and indirect light, which reflects off the ceiling. Reflective light triples the amount of light that comes out of the unit saving energy.

The units use fluorescent bulbs, which use 1/4 as much electricity as conventional incandescent bulbs.

The insulated panes in the doors and windows are made of high-performance argon-filled glass.

The timber trusses are made of strips of wood waste that have been laminated.

The steel beams are made from recycled car parts. A primary advantage of using steel is its long life, which means that ultimately fewer resources are used. This structural system allows for flexibility as interior changes need to be made over time.


The mantel on the fireplace was made from a tree that had to be removed from the site during the construction of the building.

The fireplace is a 99.9 percent particle-free wood-burning unit, which is highly energy efficient. The fireplace stone was gathered from the fields of North Carolina.

The carpet tile, made of 100 percent recycled content on the backing, is installed in 3-by-3-foot tiles, which can be replaced in modules without replacing the entire carpet. In addition, the carpet manufacturer will take the carpet back when it has outlived its usefulness here. It will then be recycled and made into things like parking space bumpers.

The side table tops and tablet arms on the lounge seating use wood veneer selected from sustainable-yield forests. The upholstery is either completely biodegradable or constructed from 100-percent recycled yarns, which are made from things like used soda bottles and X-ray film.

The tabletops are made of wheat board, and the legs are recycled Kraft paper, which is typically used for grocery bags. The table legs and edges are protected from scuffs and moisture with four-inch-high rubber boots made from recycled tires.


The floor tile and accent band on the wall are made of recycled glass. The other wall tile is made of recycled feldspar.

Both the sinks and toilets have sensors that trigger the water flow.

The bathrooms include automatic hand dryers because they use less energy than is used in the production of the millions of paper towels that are necessary to serve the same number of people.

Faculty Offices

The storage and file cabinets and the mobile pedestals are all salvage products.

The workstations and bookcases are made of wheat board, and the legs are recycled craft paper with recycled rubber boots and edge trim.

The task chairs are salvage products that were reupholstered with completely biodegradable or 100 percent recycled plastic upholsteries.

Lecture Room

      The self-healing wall covering can be used as a bulletin board without leaving unsightly holes. The covering is also free of cadmium, a toxic element used in dyes and paints.

     Flexibility was one of the primary goals of the green building. One example is the white boards that take the place of chalkboards in this lecture room. They can be taken off the walls and used on portable easels to announce meetings or post messages.

     The plastic chairs are totally recyclable. Diagrams on the bottom of each chair show how the components can be broken down and recycled. The steel rod frame is made of 95 percent process scrap.

     The podiums are made of wheat board, recycled rubber edging, cardboard tubes and castered legs.

Conference Room

     The conference tabletop is made from sunflower seed hulls. The segments that extend the table can be removed and used as side tables.

     The floor is made of bamboo, an environmentally friendly product that can be harvested every four-to-five years without killing the bamboo. Hardwoods, on the other hand, must be replanted and grow about 100 years before they can be harvested again.

     The mantel is made from one of the trees that had to be removed during the construction of the facility. Only five trees were removed from the entire construction site.

     The mesh chairs are made of 60 percent recycled content. In fact, the frame is made of 36 recycled 2-liter soda bottles. Its open-webbed fabric removes the need for upholstery foam. Finally, the bottom of each chair includes a diagram that shows how the components can be broken down after their lifespan and down-cycled.

The wall insulation is made of recycled newspapers.

All the rooms have sensors that turn the lights on when someone enters and turn them off if no one is in the room for two or three minutes.

Occupancy sensors also regulate the heating and air conditioning. If a classroom gets warmer because the number of people in the room has increased, the temperature will adjust automatically.

The elevator uses no hydraulic fluid, which can cause environmental damage during a spill. Instead, it uses a new generation of hoisting machines that consume 40-60 percent less energy than a conventional elevator. It also requires only half of the overhead machine room space of a traditional traction elevator. The floor in the elevator is made of bamboo instead of hardwoods, which take 20 times as long to grow to maturity.

Each floor contains a recycling center, which includes bins for paper, plastic and aluminum cans.

The use of decks for conference breakout sessions provides additional space while saving on heating and air-conditioning. The same is true for the exterior stair towers. The decks on these towers are large enough to accommodate a small class during mild weather.

A containment basin was installed in the zoology storage room to dispose of harmful materials if a chemical spill occurs.

Primary Benefactor

Elizabeth Stanback and Family


Design phase – Dr. John Wear, Jr. Director of the Center for the Environment

Construction phase – Dr. Kenneth Clap, Catawba Executive Vice President


KKA Architecture (Salisbury, NC)

Karen Alexander, AIA, Architect

Jon Palmer, Staff

Jeffrey Sowers, Staff

General Contractor

Wagoner Construction Company (Salisbury, NC)

William Wagoner, Chief Executive Officer

Robert Glover, General Superintendent

Diane Young, Project Manager

Bruce Evans, Job Site Superintendent

David Troutman, Job Site Superintendent


Joseph M. Gamewell Associates (Salisbury, NC)

Joseph Gamewell, President

Furnishings Designer

Envi Studio, Inc (Mooresville, NC)

Jeanne Mercer Ballard, President


Kevin McCorkle, Landscape Architect

George Morris, Landscape Implementation Supervisor

Catawba Students, Faculty & Staff, Landscape Implementation

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