The 106,000-square-foot, $28.5 million Karl J. Jacobs Center for Science and Math is the second structure Rock Valley College in Illinois is seeking to certify as a gold building under the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design rating program.

Rock Valley College is ‘living green’ with the construction of the Karl J. Jacobs Center for Science and Math, a 106,000-square-foot classroom, lab and office facility that will use industry best practices to reduce energy consumption.

The Rock Valley, Ill., project is one example of the growing number of higher education institutions recognizing the benefits of building and retrofitting facilities to the standards of the U.S. Green Building Council, industry leaders say.

“Higher education institutions, like other industries, are embracing the energy savings, water efficiency, carbon monoxide reduction, improved indoor environmental quality and stewardship that building to these high standards promote,” said Dan Bulley, senior vice president of the Mechanical Contractors Association of Chicago and an expert in Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification, a USGBC initiative commonly known as LEED.

The $28.5 million facility is set to open in time for classes this fall, providing the growing college with more - and better - space.

It is the college’s second LEED-gold level project. A third LEED-gold building is in the planning stages, said Tom Viel, director of facilities for the college.

College officials said they believe it will be the only college campus in Illinois with two LEED-gold buildings.

The three-floor structure includes life science and physical science labs, resource labs, math labs and classrooms, faculty offices, conference rooms, and several open student areas, including a greenhouse.

“There are many benefits to pursuing this standard as we work to be good stewards of our resources,” Viel said. “We anticipate reduced energy costs with this building. And, the practices put to work saving that energy will provide our students with a valuable learning tool as well.”

An unidentified worker inspects the penthouse ductwork at Rock Valley College’s Jacobs Center for Science and Math.


Mechanical Inc. of Hillside, Ill., is the lead mechanical contractor, with a $7 million contract for the facility’s sheet metal installation, hydronic piping and plumbing. It includes all exhaust, supply and return, and stainless steel laboratory exhaust ductwork, and two large laboratory exhaust fans. The contractor will also install the building automation system and mechanical system insulation.

Mechanical also is a member of the Mechanical Contractors Association of Chicago.

A distinctive feature of the mechanical system is the use of a geothermal well field consisting of 164 vertical wells drilled to a depth of approximately 370 feet, project manager Kyle DeWall said. The capacity of the geothermal field is 420 tons. The field is serving two modular Thermostack heat pumps, which will generate all of the heating water and chilled water for the building, including domestic hot water via a heat exchanger.

The cooling system uses chilled beams, which are installed in a fashion similar to radiant ceiling panels. The chilled beam system does not require the same amount of air or chilled water flow as compared with a typical cooling system in this area. This results in less equipment and installation cost, as well as energy savings.

The college also expressed an interest in using building information modeling, or BIM, DeWall said.

BIM allows contractors involved in a project to see it in 3-D on their computer screens before a shovel is put in the ground. It reduces the need to constantly check drawings and ensures everyone works from the same information.

A BIM model for the project included the plumbing, hydronic piping, ductwork, electrical and fire protection systems, along with the structural steel and reflected ceiling plan.

More organizations like Rock Valley are requesting BIM for environmentally friendly projects, Bulley said.

“BIM offers the opportunity to have the best plans in place for increasingly complex, environmentally aware projects,” he said. “The precision is unparalleled.”

The Karl J. Jacobs Center for Science and Math at Rock Valley College in Illinois. The work on the green-certified project is being done by Mechanical Inc. of Hillside, Ill.

Additional features

The geothermal and chilled beam systems are just the beginning.

The building incorporates variable-air-volume and energy-recovery air-handling units, variable-volume heating and cooling pumps, as well as variable-frequency drives for motors.

Students will not work under harsh floresent lighting. Natural lighting will not only help save energy, but provide an inviting environment for students, Viel said. He noted the openness of the design, the student lounges and the greenhouse.

The building also includes lighting techniques to reduce energy consumption, has thermally efficient glazing on the glass and a white roofing membrane to reflect the sun’s rays.

A creek restoration project on school property includes a rain garden, a new outdoor learning classroom, hundreds of new plantings and creek enhancements.

“The geothermal system, greenhouse, storm water management plan, and other practices are all excellent teaching tools,” Viel said.

With all of the different components of projects like this, there are many opportunities for grants and financing that can help offset the additional upfront cost, Bulley added. Harvard University, for example, has a $12 million revolving loan fund to pay for sustainable campus improvements.

“The return on investment can be significant,” Bulley said. “And projects like the one at Rock Valley provide so much more than monetary gain.”

This article and its images were supplied by MCA Chicago. For reprints of this article, contact Jill DeVries at (248) 244-1726 or e-mail

Open ends of duct are protected from dust and construction debris.

Building packs in sustainable features

Rock Valley College in Illinois is nearing the opening of its $28.5 million, 106,000-square-foot mixed-use facility.

It is expected to earn a gold award under the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program.

Among the sustainable features of the structure:

• Geothermal heating and cooling system

• Chilled beam cooling system

• Variable-air-volume air-handling units

• Energy recovery on air-handling units

• Variable-volume heating and cooling pumps

• High-efficiency domestic water heating system

• Variable-frequency drives for motors

• Building-integrated photovoltaics

• Transformers bearing Energy Star labels

• High-efficiency light fixtures

• Lighting controls

• Thermally efficient glazing

• Reflective white roofing membrane

• Enhanced commissioning