November 2, 2011 — The University of Virginia's Observatory Hill Dining Hall has finished fourth among 31 buildings in a nationwide energy conservation contest.
Sponsored by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Energy Star Program, the National Building Competition compared energy use in a building during a specified period against the previous year. The dining hall was classified in the "other" category, where it competed against such structures as Walter Reed Community Center in Arlington and the Atlantic City Convention Center in Atlantic City, N.J. In all, 245 buildings were entered in 12 categories.
Between May and November, the dining hall reduced its energy consumption by 20.08 percent over the same period the previous year, saving the University $67,157.67.
"U.Va. wins the recognition for our efforts to reduce costs and save energy," said Nina Morris, Facilities Management's sustainability coordinator. "We see the $67,157.67 as our award."
Coming in ahead of U.Va. in the "other" category were the University of Central Florida's Parking Garage C, in Orlando, which reduced its energy consumption by 63 percent; the Polaris Career Center in Middleburg Heights, Ohio, which reduced its energy use by 43 percent; and the Darrough Chapel Head Start Early Learning Center in Kokomo, Ind., which reduced its energy consumption by 23.5 percent.
Facilities Management upgraded "O-Hill's" lighting, replacing bulbs with more efficient models, according to Elizabeth "Libba" Williams, an energy engineer. She said that exhaust hoods in the cooking areas were modified to use less electricity and the control systems were examined to make sure they are running at peak efficiency.
"We had tremendous cooperation between the building occupants, dining maintenance staff and HVAC maintenance staff," she said. "The sustainability program was able to significantly reduce energy consumption by reducing the amount of conditioned air that is exhausted from the building by turning down the speed of the cooking hood fans when the dining hall is open, but there is no active cooking occurring. We also scheduled air handlers and exhaust fans to be off when the dining hall is closed."
The Observatory Hill Dining Hall was not only able to reduce its energy consumption by 20 percent, but it did so with more traffic in the building. This summer, the Newcomb Hall dining facility closed for renovation and the summer students were shifted to Observatory Hill, giving the building more summertime usage than it had in the past.
The competition also included a social media component, with competitors' energy savings posted regularly on Facebook and Twitter as a way of keeping the people who worked in the building engaged in the contest. More than 60 people attended a kickoff event held at the dining hall. Posters and pamphlets with energy savings tips were distributed.
"Saving energy requires a lot of dedication and work, and the building occupants at O-Hill showed they care about helping the environment and reducing unnecessary costs to U.Va.," Morris said. "The staff was responsive and engaged, from partnering on a fun kickoff party in June to hanging signs and banners throughout the building to being conscious of their energy use by turning off computers and other appliances when not in use."
While not winning the category, Morris said the University did well. "We still saved money and carbon, so that's always a good thing," she said.