While much of Western New York undoubtedly has seen better days, the region also has more than its share of charm. Well, for roughly half the year it does. During the other six months, the region — which isn’t exactly sun-drenched to begin with — the lakes are frozen, the orchards skeletal and snow-drifted, and everything has that hunkered-down, wintered-over feeling that New Yorkers have come to know all too well already this winter. But the recent LEED Platinum certification awarded to Ithaca College’s Peggy Ryan Williams Center is proof that some good news can still blossom during Western New York’s Six Months of January. The 58,000-square-foot administrative building, which was designed by Ithaca-based HOLT Architects and built by Christa Construction, is the second new construction structure to be certified LEED Platinum on Ithaca’s campus, with the Park Center for Business and Sustainable Enterprise being the other. This puts Ithaca in some pretty elite company – Yale is the only other higher education institution with that distinction. And if you’ve ever been to New Haven during the winter, you know it doesn’t lag far behind Ithaca in terms of dreariness, wet socks and non-stop January vibes.
While the Williams Center isn’t as aesthetically daring as the other green academic buildings we’ve covered recently — such as Pratt’s striking Myrtle Hall and the equally distinctive, for better or worse, Diana Center at Barnard — its sustainable bona fides are impressively comprehensive. Ithaca’s press release delivers the goods in that familiar press release-y way, but a list of green building and green design elements this long does kind of lend itself to bullet points. I’ll resist the temptation, and hope that it suffices to write that the Williams Center hits just about every mark one could hope to see hit in a green building — from the porous pavers outside to the 6,500-square-foot green roof up top, from the geothermal heating system to the 12,000-gallon rainwater collection tank to the natural convection ventilation system, this is more or less what a LEED Platinum academic building is supposed to be, with little evidence of the point-grubbing LEED Brain goofiness that occasionally afflicts high-achieving LEED buildings.
It’s worth noting, too, that the Williams Center fits in with Ithaca’s wide-ranging sustainability plan. Three Ithaca College residence halls have received Energy Star certification, and the school’s new athletic center is being designed to LEED Silver standards. Syracuse University, which sits slightly south of Ithaca in Western New York’s Great Gray Regions, has done something similar, and many other schools have done the same. As we wrote last year, all this on-campus sustainability even if it reflects nothing more than the sort of brand-building one-upsmanship that leads schools to build flashy new structures. New York was exceptionally well-represented in Princeton Review’s Guide to 286 Green Colleges, with 37 different universities — and a dozen from the CUNY and SUNY system — making the cut. This seems an encouraging trend for a number of reasons, with the fact that students — both prospective students and those currently on-campus — are demanding sustainability in exchange for their tuition dollars ranking right near the top. “That students are putting pressure on administrators to green their campuses is obviously good news,” I wrote back in April of last year. “And the dawning recognition on the part of those administrators that certain green building innovations can actually be as cost-effective as they are nifty is the sort of thing that makes your gbNYC types very happy.” It still does.