Marcel Falkenham – Acadia University
- Written by: Fatima Taha
- Produced by: Liz Fallon & Andrew Melson
- Estimated reading time: 4 mins
The old saying goes that the road to success is paved with failures. Modern times call for an upgraded adage: The road to green energy and sustainability is illuminated by LED lights.
Many of those innovative roads weave through college and university campuses, where the exterior architecture may be traditional, but renovated interiors bring modern energy efficiency and the use of learning technology.
That’s been the case at Acadia University since the early 2000s, says Marcel Falkenham, the university’s director of facilities. According to him, the campus made one of its biggest improvements towards sustainability in 2014 when it switched from heating oil to natural gas. This reduced its carbon footprint by 30 percent, he says.
Two years later, the university saw further opportunity to decrease carbon emissions through renovating two 1960s science buildings, Elliott and Huggins Hall. While energy updates were the focus, there were other concerns, too.
“Updating the brutal precast concrete exterior to match the beautiful, neo-classical architecture throughout the rest of our campus was an added benefit,” Falkenham says.
Painting the future green
The renovation of the science complex was conceived, and in its initial design stages, in 2016. It consisted of renovating two buildings and creating a new connecting pavilion between the two, creating one interlinked science complex.
The plan? Completely gut Elliott Hall—built in 1960—before updating the concrete exterior of Huggins Hall, which was built in 1969. A brand new 16,000-square-foot addition, to be called Heustis Innovation Pavilion, would connect the two buildings. Falkenham and the team focused on making the entire complex—each of its three buildings—more energy efficient.
In the Huggins building, the team switched from expensive, inefficient traditional air cooling to geothermal cooling. The geothermal line was already running through the biology building, so no additional operating costs or work needed to be done.
The completed science complex, which makes up close to 10 percent of the university’s footprint, reduced carbon emissions by 1,000 tons annually, says Falkenham. Falkenham and his team also installed 100,000-hour LED lighting.
“The lights will last until after I retire in 2032,” Falkenham laughs. “And, they have the added advantage of providing clearer facial recognition in the dark, increasing campus safety.”
It’s not the first time Acadia has taken steps toward a greener campus either. Since 2005, the school has reduced its greenhouse gas production by 25 to 30 percent, says Falkenham. “Those numbers may seem small but, over time, they accumulate into something far more significant,” he says.
Although the building footprint has increased by 5 percent since 2008, the campus has decreased its electrical consumption by 13 percent—an overall 20 percent reduction in energy use.
Budgets and bustling halls
Saving energy comes at a cost, however—namely time and money, according to Falkenham. Limited funds from the federal government, plus private donations, amounted to $22.5 million, less than half of what was needed for a possibly $50 million dollar project to renovate the two buildings and build the new Heustis Innovation Pavilion connecting them, says Falkenham.
The schedule added an obstacle. Mandates from the federal and provincial funding partners gave him until April 2018 to complete the science complex work—a little over a year for work normally requiring two to three years.
Upping the ante was Acadia’s lack of backup facility for Elliott Hall, on which interior demolition began in January 2017. The extensive interior work ranged from completely rebuilding mechanical and plumbing to installing insulation in the walls to decrease the energy required for heating and cooling, as well as improving fire safety.
The team also brought in welders and other specialists to bring the building up to par with fire code regulations. As he told the board of governors when he updated them about the extensive stainless steel ductwork installation, the welders used upwards of 50 kilometers (30 miles) of welding wire to seamlessly connect the exhaust ductwork to make the building compliant.
“Elliott Hall had to be ready to hold classes in September, so our timeline had no swing space,” Falkenham recalls.
Falkenham and his team missed the compressed timeline by only two weeks. He attributes this success to vendors such as Bird Construction, which brought in tradespeople, such as bricklayers, mechanics and electricians, as well as the design team of architects and engineers. The amount of tradespeople working in one building peaked at 150 per day, Falkenham says.
Adding to the complexity, “we were deconstructing Huggin’s exterior envelope while the building was in use,” Falkenham says. “Everyone had to play in the same sand box, from science faculty to construction managers and general contractors and the design team.”
Papers and forests
As for the pavilion—completed in 2018—it became a gathering area for students and professors to share ideas. In 2016, Falkenham took on the responsibility of maintaining another campus area catering to relaxation and collaboration.
As director of Acadia K.C. Irving Environmental Science Centre he oversees maintenance of the Harriet Irving Botanical Gardens and the Acadian Forest environment around the building. The areas are used by researchers and botanists, allowing them to be in the field while remaining on campus.
Since graduating with his bachelor’s in environmental engineering, Falkenham has loved the environment. Even outside of work, he can’t seem to get enough of nature, riding his motorcycle across the mountains and valleys of Nova Scotia, chasing the sun, whether it’s rising or setting. Some of his daughters have also caught the motorcycle bug, riding alongside their dad on winding roads.
All the more reason, Falkenham says, to make facilities energy efficient. The road to sustainability really is illuminated by LED lights.
View this feature in the Blueprint Vol. IX 2021 Edition here.
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