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UWI's 'intelligent' complex

BY DENISE DENNIS Environment Watch reporter dennisd@jamaicaobserver.com
Wednesday, May 30, 2012

THE new basic medical sciences complex at the University of the West Indies, the flagship in a series of major infrastructural developments across the Mona campus, is the perfect example of the institution's efforts to preserve the environment and reduce energy consumption.

Slated to be completed within another two months, the 330,000-square foot building will be 'intelligent', having the ability to regulate its temperature and control its lighting and security systems.

"It will be one of the only buildings that has the feature that if you have 100 persons inside an area, it adjusts itself automatically. If it's one person, it automatically adjusts to the appropriate temperature. You can't get it better than that," said project manager at UWI's Campus Projects Office Devon Smith.

Smith, who took Environment Watch on a tour of the contruction sites on the campus, said the university was on a drive to incorporate environmentally sustainable elements into its operations.

"Any university will recognise that it impacts on its society through the intellectual discourses right across the various sectors, [so] any academic institution ought to be the trendsetter to ensure that a society will move in a particular direction where sustainable development and environmentally friendly facilities are concerned," he said.

Environmentally friendly practices are also being used in the construction of the 400-room postgraduate and the 600-room undergraduate housing facilities, scheduled to be opened next academic year.

Like the medical complex, Smith pointed out, the dorms were strategically built so as to avoid cutting down existing trees. He said the architects were creative in ensuring that the orientation and placement of the medical science complex would serve to preserve what has become a central theme of the site — a 200-year-old cotton tree which represents the preservation of elements of the Papine slave villages. Ackee trees have also been preserved.

"All development is actually replacing buildings; we have not disturbed the existing environment or green areas. These are actually houses or other facilities that we have had to knock down to put up these facilities. So part of our preservation [efforts] is to remove existing facilities to put up new ones," Smith told Environment Watch.

Another feature of the basic medical sciences building that will impact on the university's energy consumption is that shade devices are installed over its double-glazed glass structure, thus preventing the entry of direct sunlight.

The effect of this is two-fold: the glass structure provides natural lighting, thus reducing the dependence on artificial sources, and the shades prevent the direct sunlight from going inside, thus reducing the dependence on artificial cooling systems. There is also what is called a 'bird', a massive overhang in the central part of the building, which provides shades for the central windows.

Solar panels have also been installed.

Additionally, grass that was removed in the construction of the building have been transplanted on the roof.

"What we have also done is what I call 'the Manhattan concept', with the buildings. So we replaced what originally would've been in the ground and put it on the roof," Smith said, noting that this will serve to keep the building cool, preserve the natural environment and can also be used for academic purposes," said Smith.

The UWI project manager also told Environment Watch that the institution was moving away from using hard surfaces in parking lots and was instead using material known as grass-Crete — miniature blocks with grass planted in the openings. This type of material allows better drainage, thus lowering the risk of flooding.

UWI also embarked on a refurbishing programme said Smith, to ensure that older buildings also have energy-saving capabilities, proper circulation and natural lighting. The microbiology/pathology department is one such example.

The 330,000 square foot state-of-the-art building will house facilities for the anatomy, biochemistry, physiology and pharmacology programmes and will also provide for physical therapy and forensic DNA. A 500-seat lecture theatre, plus two medium-sized ones, tutorial and seminar rooms, a computer laboratory with 100 workstations and a reading room/library will also be housed in the impressive structure.

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