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A Learning Beacon

Ma  Sept2016  Building Profile2

A new energy center serves as the front door to a junior college satellite campus

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Tyler, Texas bills itself as the "Rose Capital of the World," for its extensive rose-growing industry, which can make for quite a colorful and dynamic city. The west campus of Tyler Junior College, however, squats in the middle of a nondescript industrial area and includes nondescript metal buildings.

The main campus is a quiet, tree-lined, brick building campus that has a more traditional feel. But the activity on the west campus is primarily for vocational students and many who pass through there become the heart and soul of the Tyler workforce.

The new Energy Center was a collaborative effort by city, state and county officials to meet the future workforce needs of the growing community, and redefine a campus that was less than dynamic. Now it has a gem of a building that serves all those needs and more.


A Beacon and a Door

Fitzpatrick Architects, Tyler, landed the task to meet those demands, and the first hand it was dealt was a difficult site. The building sits adjacent to a vocational building, which used to be a Levi Strauss warehouse, and shares a common wall. Partnerin- charge, Brandy Ziegler, AIA, NCARB, LEED AP, says, "This is the land we were given to work with. The footprint is very small, and we had a set back on the north side. We took as much room as we could."

The small footprint required Ziegler and her team, led by project architect Serge Zotov, AIA, to think upward, and the result is a building that stands as a beacon for students and a dynamic billboard for the heavy traffic traveling the highway alongside the campus. "The Energy Center is now the main feature on campus that provides visibility and sets a new standard for campus design," says Ziegler. "It is a new front door to the campus and has turned a vocational training area into an innovative research center. We also wanted to give a nod back to those existing buildings."


Learning Lab

The entire building is designed to be a learning lab. In addition to traditional classrooms and student gathering places, the mechanical systems of the building are exposed, color-coded and labeled so they're readily identifiable. Plumbing, HVAC and electrical elements all become part of the learning process. In the main lobby is a large video screen that tracks the functions of the building and reports on its performance.

The sense of energy goes beyond just the learning experience, though. "We wanted the whole building to read as kinetic energy," says Ziegler. "We are pushing and pulling boxes throughout the building."

That's readily evident from the exterior. The main entrance is on the west side, and to its left is the soaring shared lab. It's characterized by ribbed insulated metal panels by Metl-Span, Lewisville, Texas. The panels even extend to the interior, taking the idea of pushing and pulling to an extreme.

But, perhaps the most definitive element of the building is the large window array on the west side, with the louvers in front of it to protect from the searing East Texas sun. Rather than specify a curtainwall for this elevation, Ziegler called for stacking three storefront windows that provided the same light benefit at a more economical price.

The interior of this space is a soaring two-story volume, where students gather. The outside serves as the eye's focus and at night, lit from within, fulfills the beacon promise of the building.


Energy Conversation

The building is called the Energy Center, so it was important to manage the energy consumption. Placing the building on the north end of the existing building was the first touch. "We knew we were going to be managing heat gain on the south side," Ziegler says. "So, we wanted it to be solid. To the north, we wanted to capture more northern light, and do some daylight harvesting to help in the student areas."

In the classroom and lab area, which is defined by flat Reynobond metal composite material (MCM) panels from Alcoa Architectural Products, Eastman, Ga., the dynamic placement of the fenestration serves to light the interior. Ziegler calls them "punched openings," and says they "create a cool effect to have a dappled light."

The solar orientation and daylight harvesting are essential to the energy controls, which are reported on the smartboard in the lobby that displays energy consumption in real time. But the highly efficient building envelope is the place all energy controls begin. Insulated metal panels are an economic and effective way to control heat migration through the envelope. Combined with the MCM panels, the envelope becomes the kind of barrier needed in East Texas.

In addition to preventing energy consumption, the Energy Center is set up to create energy as well. The solar racks are placed on the roof and ready for panels when funding becomes available. And a footprint in an exterior corner between the existing vocational building on the south and the Energy Center is set up to receive a windmill.

Students in labs and classrooms work with condensing units and air handlers so they can create simulated failures, turning the whole building into a learning lab. For Tyler, Texas, this kind of education that addresses the needs of the 21st century is exactly the thing the community needs and the Energy Center delivers.

Photos: Craig Blackmon, FAIA


The Energy Center at Tyler Junior College, Tyler, Texas

Project size: 48,370 square feet
Completion date: January 2015
Building owner: Tyler Junior College
Architect: Fitzpatrick Architects, Tyler
General contractor: RPR Construction, Tyler
Insulated metal panel installer: Corrugated Erectors Inc., Texarkana, Texas
Metal composite material panel installer: EFI Panels LLC, Simonton, Texas
Storefront installer: Tyler Glass & Mirror, Tyler
Aluminum canopy/louvers and installer: East Texas Canopy Inc., Whitehouse, Texas,
Insulated metal panels: Metl-Span, Lewisville, Texas,
Metal composite material panels: Reynobond by Alcoa Architectural Products, Eastman, Ga.,
Storefront windows: Oldcastle Building Envelope, Santa Monica, Calif.,