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Published on May 1st, 2013 | by UC&D Magazine

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Grand Opening Slated May 23 for Mesa Verde VRC

$14.3 million, LEED Platinum project
designed by Salt Lake-based ajc architects

By Brad Fullmer Photos by Alan Blakeley; Courtesy ajc architects

Mesa Verd1

It’s only appropriate that the new $14.3 million Mesa Verde Visitor and Research Center (VRC) was designed to achieve LEED Platinum Certification by Salt Lake-based ajc architects – after all, the nearly 84-year-old national park means ‘Green Table’ in Spanish.

Earning LEED Platinum status, the highest level of sustainable design any structure can achieve through the U.S. Green Building Council’s ‘green’ rating system, required careful planning and unique considerations by the design team, according to project architect Derek Wilson of ajc.

“The National Park Service (NPS), obviously because of who they are, they try to protect the environment, resources, and heritage sites like this,” said Wilson. “You have to be sensitive to environmental impacts of the building, but you also have to be sensitive to the cultures that are impacted, the history of the indigenous people, and the history of the park itself.”
Established by President Theodore Roosevelt in June 1929, Mesa Verde was created to preserve “the works of man”, the first of its kind for the NPS. According to the NPS, ancient Puebloan people lived in the area from 600 to 1,300 A.D. Mesa Verde protects 5,000 known archeological sites, including 600 cliff dwellings.

The new Mesa Verde VRC is located in Colorado, approximately eight miles west of Mancos and nine miles east of Cortez, at the park’s entrance just off Hwy 160. The VRC replaces the antiquated 3,000 SF Far View Visitor Center and will better accommodate 600,000 plus annual visitors. The 24,300 SF VRC includes 10,700 SF of curatorial space for archives, a repository, exhibit mounts, and library, and 7,600 SF for interior exhibit space and sales. The entire facility will house more than three million archeological artifacts.

In harmony with the mission of NPS, the project incorporated several site technologies. Existing invasive vegetation was replaced with indigenous plants to better harmonize with the natural vegetation within the park. The landscape was also developed for use of bio-swale technology to naturally treat site run-off and increase groundwater regeneration. Waste is treated on site and the byproduct is considered gray water.

Designed to NetZero operation, the facility makes use of a 95KVA photo voltaic solar array and also a new Micro Hydro Turbine on an existing gravity-fed, high pressure water line. Closed loop geo-coupling wells adjacent to a natural arroyo were combined with radiant floor heating/cooling and chilled beam technology to efficiently control the temperature throughout the building. To accommodate the many users, solar water heating is used to heat water in the comfort stations while the surplus solar-heated water is used to supplement the exterior plaza snowmelt system.

“On a LEED Platinum project you generally have to look for and find every opportunity (for LEED points) and execute it,” said Wilson. “There are not a lot of points you can let go and still achieve LEED Platinum. The biggest element of sustainability is the energy efficiency of the building. We were sensitive to the orientation of windows, solar alignment, creating a well-insulated envelope and choosing the right mechanical system. All systems work together to achieve optimum efficiency.”

Upon arrival to the building, one is welcomed by the ‘Cliff Climber’ sculpture plaza which orients the user to an axial alignment with Point Lookout. This axial alignment correlates with the cardinal points which has spiritual significance to Native Americans. To offset the strong axis, a second radial organizational mechanism creates spaces for exhibit and gathering spaces. Using these organizational methods, the building was oriented to minimize heat gain through the expansive curtain wall glazing while maximizing the view of the immediate vista and the La Plata mountain range beyond.

The building veneer includes a Quartzitic Sandstone harvested from a local quarry, honed CMU, high recycled gyp. board, FSC certified West Red Cedar ceilings, and a special insulated double film glass element that has a R-14 value.
“It’s nice to design a project with cultural and historical significance,” said Wilson. “The NPS are stewards over the environment and sustainable design is something they strive for. They set a great example to the public. This is what we should be doing collectively.”

Project Team
Owner: National Park Service
Architect: ajc architects, SLC
GC: PCL, Denver
Electrical Eng: BNA, SLC
Mechanical Eng: Colvin Engineering, SLC
Structural Eng: Dunn Associates, SLC
Civil Eng: Stantec, SLC and Ft. Collins

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