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Highly energy efficient building nears completion in Basalt

Aug 12, 2015

Rocky Mountain Institute's Innovation Center is 9 months through a 12 month construction schedule. It's set to open at the end of the year.
Credit Marci Krivonen

Construction is more than halfway done on what’s expected to be one of the most energy efficient buildings in the world. Rocky Mountain Institute’s Innovation Center in Basalt will house offices and a large conference and community room.

Aspen Public Radio’s Marci Krivonen took a tour of the 15,000 square foot building.

A construction crew is busy hammering, digging and painting. The building’s taking shape. It’s hard to miss along Two Rivers Road. Michael Kinsley with Rocky Mountain Institute stands at the entrance.

"So we’re about a one minute walk, maybe two minutes, from downtown Basalt," he says.

When fully built, RMI staffers will do research here and, industry leaders from around the world will convene to discuss making their businesses more energy efficient.

"It’s a super efficient building and, if it’s the only office building that’s built this efficiently, it will not have served its purpose. What its real purpose is, is to show others that this kind of facility can be done by organizations that care nothing about climate and environment."

Michael Kinsley of RMI stands near the entrance to the new Innovation Center.
Credit Marci Krivonen

He says the business case is convincing. And, the innovations are impressive. RMI has been giving tours to local architects, engineers and general contractors.

"This building is definitely different and innovative," says Luke Godwin.

He's with JE-Dunn Construction, the company working on the building.

"I’ve worked on a lot of college campuses that really take it to the extreme on energy savings, but most commercial buildings are not near the caliber of zero-net energy and efficiency as this building."

RMI says the center will be the most efficient building located in a cold climate zone in the United States. It’ll generate all of the energy it uses with a roof-top solar system. Rainwater collected in an outdoor pond will water the landscape. And, a set of systems indoors will keep the temperature comfortable without a furnace or air conditioning.

Luke Godwin pulls a metal rack with coils from the building’s air handling system. It’s an air-to-air heat exchanger that pulls in fresh warm summer air and cools it.

"Basically you’ve got metal sheets that act to either take in energy, take in heat, or take in coldness and exchange it into the fresh air that’s brought in from outside."

Luke Godwin of JE Dunn Construction holds an air-to-air heat exchanger. It's one component that controls temperature in the building. A furnace and air conditioner aren't needed.
Credit Marci Krivonen

The system — combined with super tight insulation of the walls, roof and foundation — keep the building a comfortable temperature. Thermostats are everywhere, even in the wall slabs. If one room gets too hot, a system pushes that warm air into a cooler room.

"There are relatively unusual components of this building. So part of the purpose of this building is to break the ice on those new approaches," says RMI's Michael Kinsley.

As the building goes up, Basalt Town Manager Mike Scanlon’s been getting comments from the public.

"I think the funniest one for me was there was a fear in the community that the building would be blue (laughs). I had to tell them that that’s just the seal that goes on the outside of the building and there’s actually brick and veneer that goes over it."

In a letter to the editor in the Aspen Times, Aspen resident Richard Gordon called the building a “horrible, ugly shed” that’s oversized and out of place.

Scanlon says the building fits into the downtown landscape and will bring a new set of visitors downtown.

"Downtown areas across the United States would kill to get something like this in their downtown, including large metropolitan areas. I think having RMI and their Innovation Center is quite the coup and we’re fortunate local people wanted to stay in their community and invest in it."

The construction marks possibly a new era for Basalt. Town officials are working to determine how to develop downtown, especially on the newly-vacant Pan and Fork property. The RMI building is set to open at the end of the year.