When Rockingham Memorial Hospital (RMH) officials committed to building their new facility in Harrisonburg, Virginia, as a “green” facility, they were largely forging new territory.
At the time, no more than a handful of hospitals around the country had received certification from the nonprofit U.S. Green Building Council as LEED-certified facilities. Even today, fewer than 50 acute care hospitals (or portions thereof) have achieved LEED Gold or Platinum status, and Rockingham is one of the few possessing Gold.
Many of those involved in the RMH construction project, which opened in June 2010, were skeptical about incorporating green attributes. Would building green cost more? Would operating a green building be truly cost-effective? Would green materials and features last? Would green building features enhance patient satisfaction and complement patient safety and staff efficiency?
“Any time you are on the leading edge of a trend or development, you are taking a chance that something may not work as well as you had hoped,” notes Dennis Coffman, director, RMH Facilities Planning and Development. “But we knew this was a calculated risk; our building was constructed using evidence-based design and around the concept of patient-centered care. We knew we were making design decisions for the right reasons—to provide the best possible patient experience and to build the best hospital and health campus for our community for generations to come.”
In the end, the 700,000-square-foot, 238-bed facility, situated on a 254-acre campus and designed by Earl Swensson Associates, Inc. (ESa), became the first LEED-certified hospital of its size in Virginia—and one of only a few LEED Gold healthcare facilities in the nation—while staying within its $290 million budget.
Many of the green building elements have resulted in energy cost savings while others have increased patient and staff satisfaction, along with other aspects of building construction and design. And along the way, hospital officials have learned lessons they can pass on.
Green features reap energy savings
Two years after opening, some green building features have proven themselves to be saving the hospital money in operational costs. Among those features are its white roof that deflects heat; HVAC system; domestic hot water heater systems and associated circulation pumps; and chilled water service connections and chilled water tertiary pumps.
A unique methane gas partnership with Rockingham County, to channel methane gas from the county landfill to the hospital’s tri-fuel boilers for energy, has been successful in meeting the hospital’s heating and cooling needs.
“We expected the methane gas to supply the majority of energy needs, and it has,” Coffman says. “We are meeting 95% to 100% of our fuel needs with methane gas. It has worked well, and we expect it will continue to. The steep drop in natural gas prices and the unusually mild winter we experienced this year meant our savings were not as great as what we had anticipated. However, given that we locked in a set price for the methane gas, at least we can be sure of what we will be paying for fuel for years to come.”
Because of the methane partnership project’s uniqueness, Chevrolet selected it in late 2011 as a carbon-reduction project in the United States in which to invest. Chevrolet featured the project on its website and in its social media.
The facility has turned out to be even more energy-efficient than expected, Coffman adds, noting that the building tends to be more efficient per square foot than the old facility, in terms of water and electricity usage.
“The electrical usage for the facility trends closely to what we modeled during the design phases of the project,” says Eric Sheffer, manager of sustainability consulting, SSRCx, and a consultant on the project. “Gas usage has not trended as accurately as what was modeled for electricity, which can help reveal to RMH some operational efficiencies that might be gained as the hospital is further tuned by RMH plant operations.”