"Green" Patel Center Opens at USF

USF’s Patel Center for Global Solutions is designed and built to be efficient, respectful of strained natural resources and green.



By Vickie Chachere

USF.edu News


TAMPA, Fla.  (Jan. 21, 2010)  - The countertops are made of recycled steel shavings, glass and resin, the toilets flush with captured rainwater and condensation from the air conditioning system and the landscaping is native to Florida with drought-tolerant plants. Some of the new carpet used to be old carpets.


From the 30,000-gallon recycled water tank below ground to lighting systems that turn off automatically as an occupant leaves the room, USF’s Patel Center for Global Solutions is designed and built to be efficient, respectful of strained natural resources and a living learning center in a “green” building.


The 75,000-square-foot center is now open, capping more than a year of construction for USF’s first fully-constructed sustainable building. The university has incorporated sustainable building practices into all its facilities remodeling and construction, but the Patel Center represents a new era in rethinking how public spaces are created with an eye on better managing limited resources, USF leaders say.


The center houses the Kiran C. Patel Center for Global Solutions and the School of Global Sustainability, classrooms, programs for international students and large public meeting spaces. Also located at the center are offices of USF President Judy Genshaft, Provost Ralph Wilcox, Senior Vice President for Research, Innovation & Global Affairs Karen Holbrook, and other administrative services.

“This is a very important building that tangibly expresses the concept of sustainability, and reflects the thrust of many of our global research and academic, service and training programs that are housed in the Patel Building,” Holbrook said.

The $18 million building was designed and outfitted by Ponikvar & Associates and Charles Perry Construction Inc. The firms are longtime collaborators who have worked as a design-build team on more than 20 green projects. The building was made possible with an initial $5 million donation from Drs. Kiran and Pallavi Patel.

The application for a Gold LEED certification will be submitted to the Green Building Council, the national organization which has set the standard for sustainable building, later this spring, said Walter Pestrak, the USF architect and project manager who oversaw the Patel Center effort. 

 “While our Facilities Planning and Construction team has insisted on using environmentally-friendly building practices for many years, the new LEED certified Patel Center marks the first time that those efforts have come to fruition for a single building at USF,” said E. Christian Wells, Director of  USF’s Office of Sustainability.

“This is just the start of much more to come. Several LEED buildings are either under construction or in design, and the new Tampa Campus Master Plan calls for all new construction to be LEED certified. Once again, USF is providing the kind of sustainability leadership that is needed to move our campus and community into the global spotlight.”

More than just a step forward for sustainable construction practice with its foundation and floors of recycled steel and concrete, the center was designed to represent the university’s global role in solving difficult issues, chief among  them the worldwide water crisis. Architect Apryl Ponikvar translated that far-reaching mission into the soft wave-like lines of the building’s design.

“We looked at what the Patel Center is all about, a place for solutions to global issues and one of the very important issues is water worldwide,” she said. “Dr. Patel wanted an iconic building, and water is fluid and flowing which is why the building curves and unfolds as you move through it. It’s something moving forward and moving out, into the future and into the community and into the global community.”

That’s why as a visitor walks down one of the corridors, they won’t see long hallways with rows of office doors but following a curving path that reveals new spaces as they move toward their destination. Working with a group of campus leaders that helped conceptualize the building, the architects seized on an idea by USF engineering professor Daniel Yeh, an internationally-known water expert, that themes from each floor be drawn from the classic Greek elements of earth, water, air and fire.

It wasn’t just reducing the size of the university’s carbon footprint that the architects and builders kept in mind; building products were extracted or manufactured from sources in a 500-mile radius of Tampa to lessen the environmental impact of transporting materials to the campus. More than 90 percent of the construction waste was recycled to lessen the impact on area landfills, said Jason Morgan, the regional manager for Perry Construction.

Among the first features a visitor might notice in the new Patel Center is the use of natural light to lower the need for electric lighting; the building was constructed on an east-west axis to make the best use of the sunlight. Even then, lights turn off automatically when an occupant leaves a room, and turn on when they return. Lighting in the building also is provided by lower-cost, longer-life LED lights and efficient fluorescent fixtures.

Solar panels on the roof heat water for use in the building, while glazing on the windows keeps heat out while letting light in. Employees have control in adjusting the temperature of their individual workspaces, which actually helps lower costs considering most people think their offices buildings are kept too cold.

Recycled and composite materials are used throughout: wood paneling and detail are either wood-composite materials or from managed forests. For example, the doors throughout the building are made from bamboo – a quick growing, inexpensive source of wood. Materials such as granite, which once removed from the earth do not grow back, were not used.

Low or no-emitting paints and construction adhesives were used throughout to improve indoor air quality.

Outside the building, the landscaping uses native Florida plants which are drought tolerant. Large trees were protected, and pine needles are used as mulch. Special parking spaces have been set aside for energy-efficient vehicles and those who carpool and bike to work. (A shower room inside the building was installed for employees who bike to work and want to clean up after a long ride).

And, of course, there are plenty of recycling bins throughout the building.

The facility’s first academic event will be held Feb. 2-4 when the Patel Center hosts the international conference “Social Movements, the Poor and the New Politics of the Americas.” The event will draw scores of academics involved in social movements in the Americas to share their perspectives on civil society organizations, social justice efforts and activists.

In addition to being a gathering place for conferences, the building will serve as an educational model for green building techniques and materials. Two other centerpiece projects on campus – the Interdisciplinary Science Teaching and Research Facility and renovation of the USF Sun Dome – are being constructed to new green standards.

A formal dedication ceremony for the Patel Center will be held on March 10.

Vickie Chachere can be reached at 813-974-6251.