The Sierra Nevada Aquatic Research Laboratory’s new Page Center, an innovative, net-zero energy classroom and lecture hall, celebrated its opening on May 30. In attendance were donors Paul and Kate Page, UCSB Chancellor Henry Yang, Mammoth Mountain Ski Area (MMSA) CEO and Valentine Reserve Fund Chairman Rusty Gregory, and numerous other donors, researchers, and SNARL enthusiasts.
The Page Center is 2,696 square feet, able to seat 120 people, but also to subdivide into smaller meeting spaces. The building is named after the Pages in honor of their donation to fund it and bequest in their estate plan to maintain it, as well as their many years as volunteers at the Valentine Eastern Sierra Reserve and SNARL.
Reserve Director Dan Dawson said the Page Center has been a dream in the making since 1987. “We knew we needed a classroom facility right away, but of course we didn’t have any money,” he said.
SNARL purchased the former Presbyterian “Green Church” on Route 395 in 1989 as a temporary solution to the Research Laboratory’s need for a gathering place.
“It worked really great for our public lectures,” Dawson said, particularly SNARL’s Spring Lecture series, “but it’s a little far from SNARL itself.”
Dawson saw that SNARL researchers seldom made the trek from the Research Laboratory’s facility on Mt. Morrison Road to the Green Church. What’s more, in the mid-1990’s, the Town of Mammoth Lakes began looking into expansion options for the Mammoth Yosemite Airport. Should the airport ever expand from its current B-III to a C-III classification, “one of the things prohibited within the enlarged runway protection zone is public assembly,” Dawson said.
Although the Airport expansion project’s Environmental Impact Report was eventually overturned in court, Dawson believes “It is inevitable that the airport is going to be reclassified.”
Then, three years ago, Dawson saw a grant opportunity through the California Wildlife Conservation Board. SNARL applied and was awarded $1 million in funding for a classroom project. That number came up to about $1.5 million with private donations raised through the Valentine Reserve Fund, created by Paul and Kate Page. The Fund is composed of about 30 families who donate unrestricted funding to SNARL and the Valentine Reserve for various projects.
The Page Center broke ground on June 11 of last year, and while Dawson said there’s still a little more fine-tuning to be done, the new building recently hosted the first 2015 SNARL Spring Lecture on Tuesday, June 2 (see cover story).
But the new Page Center is much more than your average classroom or meeting hall. Dawson said one of his primary goals for the classroom project was to create a net-zero energy, LEED Gold Certified building in keeping with UCSB’s green energy goals for its Natural Reserve System and main campus (the Princeton Review recently ranked UCSB the greenest public university in the U.S.).
To achieve net-zero energy (meaning the building will use no energy from the grid, nor any propane for heating), the Page Center uses a combination of ground source heating and cooling, with two large photovoltaic panel arrays on the roof to cover the building’s energy needs.
Ground source heating isn’t a new technology, but has only recently become popular in California.
“What ground source heating does is it makes use of the near constant temperature of the ground,” Dawson explained. “When you go down 10 feet, the temperature is equal to the average temperature at that location. Around here that ranges from about 58-62 degrees, Fahrenheit.”
Dawson noted there are five, 150-foot deep wells under the Page Center parking lot. Each well has two loops of polyethylene pipe, for a total of 3,000 feet of pipe. The system uses conventional heat pumping technology similar to that used in refrigeration to extract, concentrate, and deliver heat to a room, and also to extract heat from the room and deliver it back into the earth, cooling the room like a refrigerator.
Dawson noted that this system is not only more energy efficient than the Green Church’s furnace, but also much quieter. “That furnace is actually louder than the jet planes coming in,” he laughed.
Dawson’s second goal with the Page Center was to create a classroom that could evolve with changing trends in technology. As it turns out, Paul Page was an ideal resource for that project.
Paul founded two companies in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s that were involved with the design of microcomputers and microchips. He said his desire in designing the electronic system for the Page Center was that it be user friendly to researchers, lecturers, and students. He also worked to ensure that the building had no “obsolete-able technology.”
The Page Center currently boasts high speed wireless internet courtesy of Digital 395, floor boxes for both power and internet connection, and a large projection screen. But perhaps most important, the building has a “smart lectern,” with space for all of the equipment that controls the room. Because that equipment is contained in a podium rather than built into the building, updates will be cheaper and easier.
“My whole excitement with this project is that I saw this facility as the missing element that made SNARL a world-class research station,” Paul said. Formerly, “there wasn’t a place for people to get together and collaborate … Now, I can envision how people could start bringing conferences here, and researchers and students could start sharing ideas.”
Dawson said that collaboration used to occur in the much smaller SNARL dining hall space. Now, a whole range of users, such as plant ecologists, animal behaviorists, geologists and hydrologists, can not only live together at SNARL, but work together as well, sharing and shaping ideas at the Page Center.
“It’s beautiful,” Kate Page said simply of the new classroom. “I think it will get a lot of use.”
UCSB Chancellor Henry Yang offered his complements at the May 30 opening ceremony. “This is such a fantastic place for the meeting of minds, and to educate the future,” he said. “UCSB is so proud to have your contribution.”