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A stately London plane tree once stood beside Westminster College's historic Foster Hall throwing afternoon shade on an old tennis court. The tennis court and 90-year-old tree were razed two years ago to make way for campus growth, but their materials live on in the school's new science building.

"That tree is in the floor, in the [exhibit] boxes, in the walls. We made a conference table out of it. Any part we couldn't use in the building we mulched," said Mary Jane Chase, dean of the School of Arts and Sciences at the private Salt Lake City liberal arts college.

New uses were likewise found for the tennis court's concrete. This recycling effort was a minor nod toward sustainability, but it helped Westminster win an important distinction when its Meldrum Science Center was certified LEED platinum Friday, making it Utah's first major education building to achieve the highest standard of environmental design.

"I'm so proud. I'm just bubbling," Chase said. "Not only is it a healthy learning environment but everything we did in this building was designed to teach students. It's a building that shows our students how it can be done and what they can do to make a difference."

The 60,000-square-foot building, named for benefactors Peter and Cathie Meldrum, was feted last week at a ribbon cutting in which officials and donors extolled the $30 million project's educational virtues. Designed by Derek Payne and associates at VCBO Architecture, the four floors open onto a spacious atrium, flooding natural light into nearly every corner of the 14 classroom labs and five research labs. At the time, officials were angling for LEED gold, the second-highest standard under the Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design system administered by the U.S. Green Building Council.

"Because Westminster was so committed, we pursued as many points as we could. You never know what will happen with a LEED project," said Whitney Ward, VCBO's sustainable systems manager. The building has smart lighting fixtures that dim in response to the presence of natural light and project light where it's needed. The contractor, Big-D Construction, recycled 600 tons of waste material from the site and purchased materials from local sources.

"It was a great team effort," Ward said. "The carpet and acoustic tiles, the structural steel, the rebar and concrete was local. You get credit if it comes from within 500 miles."

Ample bicycle parking and proximity to public transit made additional campus parking unnecessary. Three-phase evaporative cooling lowers electrical use. The 21-kilowatt photo-voltaic array on the roof meets 3 percent of the building's power needs.

"Platinum is a real accomplishment. To get from silver to gold is a leap. It's twice as hard to get to the next step. To do it in a lab building is even more amazing," said Myron Willson, sustainability director for the University of Utah.

Under its master plan, the U. is aiming for LEED silver in new buildings. The Sutton geology building achieved a gold certification, which the new Museum of Natural History is also seeking. VCBO is the architecture firm on the U.'s Thatcher addition to the chemistry building, which will seek silver.

Utah State University's off-campus Swaner EcoCenter and Wetland Discovery Point are LEED platinum.

Like the U., USU and more than 600 other institutions, Westminster is a signatory to the American College and University Presidents' Climate Commitment, which obligates it to slash emissions of carbon dioxide, implicated in global warming, and take other measures to reduce its environmental impact.

Building green may cost more up front, but it probably pays for itself over the long haul, officials said.

"It's not just about deep pockets, it's about commitment. We didn't spend more on this building to achieve platinum. This project came in under budget. It's about good design," Chase said.

What is LEED?

R Certification provides independent, third-party verification that a building meets the highest green building performance measures. LEED certification shows that a building is environmentally responsible, profitable and a healthy place to live and work.