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ExplorationWorks: Exhibition in Energy Efficiency

By EVE BYRON, Independent Record

When ExplorationWorks was first envisioned a decade ago, its supporters wanted the hands-on science center in Helena to be environmentally friendly and a leader in energy-efficient technology.

Earlier this month, their efforts were recognized as the nonprofit corporation received a Leader in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, certification.

“We’ve been working on this for a long time,” ExplorationWorks Executive Director Suzanne Wilcox said on Tuesday. “As a science center, we thought it was important to highlight the state of alternative technologies and building design materials. It was a great opportunity.”

Walking across the cement floor heated in part with water warmed through solar panels on the roof, Ron Boggs, ExplorationWorks public relations manager, points out some of the features that helped earn the designation. He adds that they’re the first nongovernment building in Helena to earn the LEED certification.

Baseboard and other trim work are made out of “wheat board,” which is compressed straw that otherwise might be thrown away. A hole in the wall shows off more straw packed into bales and used as insulation.

Upstairs, Wilcox notes that the large interior beams are made from small trees pressed together to look like larger, old-growth timbers.

“It’s called parallel strand lumber, or PSL,” Wilcox said. “It’s real small-diameter growth, which is thinned instead of clear cut and transported only a short distance. This came from Idaho.”

Some of the upstairs windows are milky white and while not transparent, still let in light. It’s a product called “Kalwall,” which has a higher insulation value than typical windows and cuts down on glare.

A ladder to the roof reveals more LEED-friendly equipment, including solar photovoltaic panels and solar water heaters, with the panels providing about 7 kilowatts of energy. The building also uses recycled steel shingles for siding.

Altogether, the museum’s special features should save about 60 percent of the energy used by a typical facility of the same size.

It’s not just the energy-efficient measures that earn the LEED certification. Other aspects, including site selection, recycling building wastes and using materials that are low in toxins also contribute to the certification, as does the air quality and natural light for the final work environment.

“LEED certification is third-party verification that a project meets the highest standards of sustainability. We were proud to support this outstanding green building project,” said Kath Williams of Bozeman, who is the past president of the World Green Building Council in Bozeman. “The design and construction — as well as the community efforts on this project — make it exemplary and worthy of LEED certification.”

ExplorationWorks now is one of 15 LEED-certified buildings in Montana, and the second in Helena. The U.S. Veterans Benefit Administration Building at Fort Harrison achieved LEED certification last year.

At a recent ceremony commemorating ExplorationWorks’ certification, Anna Green, speaking on behalf of Gov. Brian Schweitzer, applauded the new certification.

“ExplorationWorks has recognized the match between the world of science and math and the role of energy — from the moment you step in the building you are reminded of this connection,” Green said. “The building itself is an exhibit to learn about energy conservation and green building.”

(This article originally appeared in the Independent Record on February 24, 2010. Reprinted with permission. )

Contact reporter Eve Byron at 406-447-4076 or [email protected]


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