Millersville University’s new welcome center provides visitors with 13,600 square feet of contradictions.
The university broke ground on the center in March, with hopes of creating a new home for its admissions, sustainability, housing and other administrative departments. Officials want the facility to have net-zero energy, meaning it produces at least as much energy as it consumes.
The best way to conserve energy in a building is to have essentially no windows and limit the use of air conditioning and heating, project architect Shannon Kaplan explained Thursday during a tour of the facility. But a dark cube full of people shivering in the winter and sweating in the summer would do little to create an environment that entices new students to attend the school.
The Lombardo Welcome Center’s design is a compromise, said Kaplan, of New York-based engineering firm AKF Group. It balances environmentally friendly features like solar panels, geothermal heating, recyclable furniture and water-conserving rain gardens with welcoming floor-to-ceiling windows and accommodations that make working and visiting the building a pleasant experience.
Crews expect to finish construction on the building in January, said Chris Steuer, Millersville University’s sustainability officer. When they do, Steuer hopes to see the building become not just a hub for Millersville’s 10,000 annual visitors, but also a place where local school groups and professionals come to learn about sustainable building practices.
Panels throughout the building will provide education about steps builders and consumers can take to conserve energy. The center will also have a small array of solar panels on display outside, providing a visual representation of the largely out-of-sight roof panels that will supply much of the Lombardo Welcome Center’s energy.
The building cost about $7 million to construct – a pricetag Steuer says will pay for itself in saved energy costs over the next 30 years. Construction was partially funded by donations from Benecon Group CEO Samuel Lombardo and his wife, Dena.