WYEP, “Where the Music (and the Environment) Matters”

By Tracy Certo for Green Building Alliance

The initial thing Lee Ferraro asks first-time visitors to do when entering the new WYEP community broadcast building is to take a deep breath.  “What do you smell?” he asks.

The correct answer is, “Nothing.”

In this healthy, LEED Silver-rated studio, attention to green building is evident in everything from non-toxic finishing materials to a flood of daylight.  The goal of creating an environmentally friendly, as well as a healthy building for those who work there, was achieved.

“It’s simpatico with our mission to improve quality of life in the region,” says Ferraro, WYEP’s station manager.  “Building green is building quality and it fits into our culture.  Everyone who works here is into energy savings.”

Another fit for the adult alternative station’s philosophy:  ceilings made of recycled blue jeans.  To minimize the impact on the environment, recycled materials are used throughout, from linoleum floors of linseed oil and flour, to wheat board for sub-floors and as a wood substitute.  Additionally, WYEP chose to reuse office equipment wherever possible from their old headquarters instead of buying new.

When at the end of its lease and feeling squeezed in its 3,000-square-foot office space on the other end of East Carson Street, WYEP’s management and board opted to build new in nearby historic Bedford Square.  From the start, everyone was on board for a green building.  After all, this is the listener-supported radio station that produces the Allegheny Front, an environmental news program that urges listeners to act responsibly.

Further motivation came from a $500,000 building grant from The Heinz Endowments to support the station’s green building objective.  The initial goal of a LEED Silver certified building received an additional incentive from the Kresge Foundation, which stepped forward with a potential green bonus grant of $150,000 to achieve the Silver rating.

The WYEP crew was off to a good start with its new location, an urban site with existing water, sewage and power service that was within 100 yards of mass transit and 250 yards of a bike path.  Before starting construction, two old buildings on the site had to be demolished.  Instead of clogging up a landfill, 85% of the materials from the buildings were hauled off to Construction Junction or diverted elsewhere and sold for reuse.

To ensure a smooth design process, the staff met regularly with the design team of an architect, contractor Ernie Sota (who specializes in green building), and management.  “It is very important that everyone understood why we were doing certain things,” says Ferraro, “and every goal of ours needed to be integrated since every single decision impacts other things.  Everyone needed to understand so they could not only contribute ideas but also incorporate others’ ideas.”

That same consideration extended to the neighborhood.  To ensure good external relations, WYEP met several times with a neighborhood design review committee that cheered the decision to add ample first-level parking below the building to avoid placing a further burden on already crowded streets.

The building’s interior design was feasible, smart and efficient in every way. “Much of what we did there was good common sense planning in terms of arranging spaces so folks working at desks most of the day got the most access to light and view,” says architect Kevin Gannon of dggp.  “No one sits in the studios for eight hours, so they’re grouped together in the center of the building.”

The studios were designed to be “floating”—literally unconnected for acoustic isolation—which allowed them to take advantage of different types of insulation.  “We combined techniques for floating studios with insulated floors, so it was sort of a two-fer,” continues Gannon.  “That’s what we tried to do all over the place—to obtain multiple benefits from a single design element.  It impacts directly the bottom line.”

As much as possible, materials were shipped from within 200 miles of the site, including up to 90 percent of the steel, which was trucked in from Rankin.  Work stations feature individual temperature controls, while C02 monitors on thermostats reopen roof vents if the air gets dirty.  Operable windows throughout the building allow for fresh breezes, as well as a sense of environmental control.

Initial energy models calculated a 25 percent energy savings for a 13,000-square-foot green building versus a conventional one.  Instead, the operations budget demonstrates a savings of slightly more than 50 percent, says a proud Ferraro.

“It’s a great project in terms of a building in an urban setting meeting goals and fitting into historic Bedford Square,” offers Gannon.  And now, through WYEP’s education outreach program, popular tours show visitors the inner workings of a radio station, from broadcast studios to CD storage rooms, while, throughout the whole, green features and an environmental message is clearly conveyed.

See more details on WYEP here.

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