The Pittsburgh Project Guest House

“We desire that Pittsburgh will be called a City of Truth, where once again, men and women of ripe old age will sit in the streets, each with cane in hand because of age, and where the city streets will be filled with boys and girls playing there.”

Taken in part from the Bible’s book of Zechariah (with Pittsburgh substituted for Jerusalem), the above mission statement is a very appropriate one for an urban and neighborhood-based Christian community development organization.  Founded in 1985, The Pittsburgh Project is a nonprofit corporation dedicated to the development of servant leaders through youth development programs, service camps and retreats.  It also provides free home repairs, visitations, and links with social service agencies and churches to at-risk homeowners.

In 2004 the Project’s executive director, Saleem Ghubril, met with Clearview Project Services Company to discuss what was then envisioned as an addition to the nonprofit’s existing building structure.  “LEED certification seemed a natural goal for our project,” comments Ghubril, “as, daily, we work towards ensuring that every vulnerable homeowner is able to live in a safe and healthy house.”

Ross Ferkett, Clearview’s project manager, found that it wasn’t feasible to undertake the development as a building attachment.  By approaching the plan with a refined view, the team was able to integrate more appropriate solutions to larger issues.  “Eventually,” Ferkett explains, “the project was re-proposed as a free-standing addition, which ultimately saved money and facilitated a greater synergy between the mechanical systems.  Also, we had masonry in some areas and wanted ICFs (insulated concrete forms) in others, so, by changing our design, we were able to implement more cost-effective treatments.”

Project team dynamics were very fluid throughout the construction process, as it was challenging to develop a 23,000-square-foot dormitory facility for the nearly 300 high school and college students who attend summer programs at the Pittsburgh Project.  During their time there, they participate in the renovation of homes for low-income families.  “It was an important lesson,” Ferkett stresses, “as everyone’s opinion was valid and there couldn’t be one single voice for the project that dictated how everything was to work.”

An open-ended mindset enabled the design team to embrace an opportunity presented to The Pittsburgh Project during the initial stages of construction: the incorporation of 27 used solar water heaters.  CarnegieMellonUniversity was scheduled to “re-do” the roof of its civil engineering building and intended to simply dispose of unnecessary passive solar water heaters.  A deal was struck and The Pittsburgh Project appropriated the solar water heaters, thereby saving money, energy and landfill space.  These units are now located on the roof of the new dorm building and provide up to 500 gallons of preheated hot water per day for shower and laundry use during home repair retreats.  “The passive water heaters are fantastic,” raves Alan Traugott, a principal with CJL Engineering.  “The Pittsburgh Project saves around 20 percent of its domestic hot water load over the summer when the building is primarily used.”

The building is masonry-bearing wall, using block and ICF structure along with steel framing and pre-cast plank to create a high-performance envelope that reduces cooling and heating requirements. While sleeping quarters utilize daylighting and have operable windows, the lighting system was designed to provide minimal lighting in dorm areas since neither the addition nor the original building are occupied during most of the day and evening.  Students and counselors return late in the afternoon when some daylight is still available, but then leave again for dinner and return just prior to bedtime.  Lighting is controlled by a time clock to shut off after 8:30 a.m. and to turn back on at 4 p.m.

This project is an important example of how an integrated, environmentally-responsible design can be achieved at a modest cost.  It showcases ways of incorporating efficiencies into a structure, while reducing the impact on Pittsburgh’s stormwater and sewage systems, water supply, and energy infrastructure.  Also, since high school and middle school students from not only the local area but from all around the country converge at The Pittsburgh Project, they can witness the benefits of green building firsthand and take their insights back to their own communities.

See more details on the Pittsburgh Project Guest House here.

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