Building Controls, Design and Construction, Energy Management and Lighting, Grounds Management, Heating and Cooling, Maintenance and Operations, Sustainability/Business Continuity

University of Connecticut’s Director of Major Projects Talks Campus Sustainability

While sports fans know that the University of Connecticut (UConn) is known as the “Basketball Capital of the World,” the university has recently been recognized on the national level for its ongoing commitment to sustainability by being ranked as one of the top 25 schools on The Princeton Review’s Top 50 Green Colleges list for 2024. Talk about a slam dunk for the UConn Huskies! Facilities professionals at campuses across the country can look to UConn as an example as they strive to lower their own carbon footprint.

About the University’s Facilities

UConn facilities professionals have been hard at work implementing sustainable measures at the university’s seven large campuses located throughout Connecticut, which include the largest, main campus in Storrs; UConn Health in Farmington; UConn Avery Point in Groton; UConn Hartford; UConn Law, also in Hartford; UConn Stamford; and UConn Waterbury.

UConn Spokesperson and Manager of Media Relations Stephanie Reitz told Facilities Management Advisor that the university system has 4,286 acres, with 2,271 acres being on the Storrs main campus.

Reitz said that there are 263 buildings currently being used in Storrs, which include academic buildings, administrative facilities, indoor athletic facilities, and residential halls. While most of those buildings are located at the main campus, Reitz said that some are located two miles away at the smaller 240-acre Depot Campus, which acts as an extension of the main campus.


Facilities Management Advisor had an exclusive interview with Elizabeth Craun, P.E., Director of Major Projects, University Planning, Design and Construction (UPDC), who answered the following questions about the importance of sustainability at UConn:

Why is sustainability important for UConn, and how does having Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification from the U.S. Green Building Council impact UConn’s sustainability efforts?

UConn recognizes its role both as a leading educational institution for our state and nation, and as a global citizen with research and innovation strength to help address issues created by our world’s changing climate.

UConn’s commitment to the LEED process is one example among many in which the university works to make its operations as sustainable as possible to reduce its carbon footprint.

In 2016, the Board of Trustees adopted a policy to require that any new UConn building or renovation project must qualify and be certified LEED Gold upon completion if it has an estimated budget of $5 million or more when entering the design phase.

LEED-certified buildings have lower carbon emissions, both from the embodied cost of materials used in the construction process and from energy usage, compared to conventionally constructed buildings.

The university’s commitment to LEED Gold standards prioritizes sustainable design, construction, and operations in the construction and renovation of UConn’s buildings, and promotes the health and well-being of occupants, the community, and the environment.

What sustainability efforts are being planned and implemented in the new South Campus Residence Hall and other new on-campus facilities that are being built or are currently under construction?

UConn maintains an updated LEED scorecard for each project through the design and construction process, and the new South Campus Residence Hall is on track to achieve LEED Gold certification upon completion.

The building features high-efficiency MEP (mechanical, electrical, and plumbing engineering) systems; a tight building envelope that minimizes energy usage while maximizing occupant comfort; advanced energy metering; water conservation systems; LED lighting with occupancy sensors in non-sleeping spaces; and responsible materials selection and sourcing.

In addition, UConn’s related South Campus infrastructure project will provide sustainable heat and cooling to the new residence hall via a geothermal heat exchange system connected to an upgraded chiller plant. This system will also provide cooling to existing buildings in the South Campus area currently served by the chiller plant.

The recently completed Science 1 project features a 0.5 MW rooftop solar array, capable of providing 14% of the total energy used by the building on an annualized basis.  

What sustainability measures and updates have taken place as the university has renovated existing buildings?

Some of the measures commonly employed for renovations of any size at UConn (including those not required to meet the LEED Gold standard due to scope and budget) include conversion to LED lighting, use of sustainable materials, improvements to the building envelope (wall insulation, window improvements, etc.), and replacement of building MEP systems with higher-efficiency options.

Buildings served by the UConn Central Utility Plant (CUP) also benefit from the efficiencies of cogeneration (the CUP not only produces steam and electricity, but also utilizes reclaimed water).

The renovation of the massive 285,000-square-foot, nearly 50-year-old existing Gant Science Complex provided additional opportunities for sustainability due to its scope and scale. The renovation was planned in three phases, of which two have been completed so far.

A major feature of the Gant renovations is the Light Court, an atrium flooded with natural light, used as social and study space for students. Once a little-used open-air lightwell, it is now a vibrant campus attraction in which the use of natural lighting enhances occupant well-being while minimizing energy usage.

Significant upgrades were made to the existing building envelope, with exterior brick and concrete walls restored and insulated (raising the R-value from R-2 to R-30, decreasing energy usage while increasing occupant comfort). Windows were also replaced with high-performance rated glazing (decreasing air infiltration through the envelope from 1.60 cfm/sf to 0.06-0.10 cfm/sf).

In addition, the Gant Science Complex has long hosted a research and demonstration scale green roof installation on the plaza level. That location allows it to act as a roof for the bottom floors of the building, and it can also easily be accessed for maintenance and educational activities.

What steps is UConn taking to become climate-neutral by 2030 and climate-zero by 2040, and why this is important for the university?

As stated in our Strategic Plan, we recognize at UConn that the well-being of people and the health of our planet are inseparable.

The university already has launched several initiatives aimed at reducing its carbon footprint, including revamping how it provides clean energy to operate its buildings and vehicles, and expanding opportunities for students to participate in research through experiential learning opportunities.

For example, despite a 44% increase in on-campus square footage since 2000 due to new and expanded buildings, UConn Storrs has reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by 25% from the baseline amounts 20+ years ago.

The work crosses many parts of UConn’s campuses, including in the ways it designs and constructs buildings and the methods by which they are operated. Fuel cells, solar arrays, electric vehicle charging, and other approaches are all part of the approach, as is UConn’s work to transition 24 of its utility vehicles to hydrogen fuel.

UConn is poised to take major steps forward through the launch of an Investment Grade Energy Audit, which involves a deep dive into various energy-savings options and will continue efforts underway to retrofit older buildings, transition to LED lighting, replace an aging major underground steam pipe, and other work.

Sustainability efforts also are in place throughout many parts of campus, covering a wide range of operations and facilities from water reclamation to locally sourcing much of the food served in dining halls and other establishments.

For instance, UConn Dining Services diverts most of its food waste for renewable biofuel energy and compost. UConn also installs sustainable building features wherever possible, such as the “green” plant-covered roofs on several buildings and the solar energy array at the Peter J. Werth Residence Tower—which has avoided more than 241,000 pounds of CO2 since 2017.

As UConn’s Board of Trustees said in a recent statement: “The university community has rightly determined that the growing climate crisis is one of the gravest threats to humanity that this and future generations must face and collectively address to help avert global catastrophe. We are already seeing the dire consequences of a warming planet. UConn and every research university has a critical role to play in helping to combat this crisis and build a far more sustainable future.”

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