The popular Sierra Nevada Aquatic Research Laboratory (SNARL) summer lecture series will find a new and improved home in 2015, when SNARL completes its new classroom and lecture hall at the current SNARL facility off Mt. Morrison Road.
The new, net-zero energy consumption classroom has been a dream in the making since 1987, said SNARL Director Dan Dawson. “We had identified the need for a classroom building to host lectures and classes back then,” he said, and when the Green Church at the corner of Highway 395 and Benton Crossing Road came onto the market that year, SNARL snatched it up. However, the Green Church, while iconic, has always suffered from drawbacks like highway noise and proximity to the Mammoth-Yosemite Airport.
In 2002, the town of Mammoth Lakes proposed an expansion of the airport that would require increasing the size of the runway protection zone. Because public assembly would not be permitted within that zone, such an expansion would have forced SNARL to discontinue the use of the Green Church for its lecture series and classes.
Although the airport expansion project’s Environmental Impact Statement was eventually overturned in court, given the Town’s continued interest in such an expansion, “It became obvious at that time that our days were numbered,” Dawson said.
Two years ago, SNARL applied for a grant through the California Wildlife Conservation Board and received $1 million in funding for the classroom project. SNARL also received substantial private donations, bringing the total budget to $1.5 million.
Dawson said the building will be named for two local residents, Kate and Paul Page, who were the project’s most generous supporters. “They provided a large gift toward this project and a bequest in their estate plan as well,” he said. “The bequest is aimed at keeping the technology in the building modern and up-to-date in the future.”
A year ago, SNARL hired Thompson Naylor Architects, a boutique architecture firm based in Santa Barbara, to design the classroom. Dawson said the firm recently completed its final design.
The classroom will be 2,696 square feet, have a capacity to seat 120 people, and can also be easily subdivided into smaller meeting spaces. The project will be LEED Gold Certified, and will use a combination of ground source heating and cooling, as well as photovoltaic energy, to meet its net-zero energy consumption goal.
Ground source heating isn’t a new technology, Dawson explained, but hasn’t yet been widely used in the west. SNARL has been working with Sierra Eco Systems of Genoa, Nevada, to design its ground source system. The company has already installed several such systems in Mammoth.
“What [ground source heating] does is it makes use of the near constant temperature of the ground,” Dawson said. “When you go down 10 feet, the temperature is equal to the average temperature at that location. Around here that ranges from about 58-62 degrees, Fahrenheit. There’s a fair bit of energy stored there; the question is, how do you extract and concentrate it?”
Dawson said the process uses conventional heat pumping technology similar to that used in refrigeration. “When you have a big thermal reservoir, you can extract, concentrate, and deliver heat to a room, but you can also extract heat from the room and dump it in the earth,” cooling the room like a refrigerator, he explained.
While the classroom won’t have a zero carbon footprint, which would require buying expensive energy credits to offset construction costs, “We’re trying to get a building that, after its completion, doesn’t consume any fossil fuel for its operations,” Dawson said.
Dawson added that the classroom has also been designed “with a forward-looking objective,” not just in terms of energy use, but also in terms of anticipating changes to technology. Considering cutting- edge classrooms were once equipped with Ethernet ports and now provide cordless wifi, changes in technology can be hard to predict, and costly to keep up with. Dawson said the SNARL classroom will be built with the minimum interfacing equipment in the walls, and more in the lecture podium. This allows for quick and inexpensive upgrades.
SNARL’s numerous classes on a range of subjects from snow hydrology to geology, which currently use the living room of the SNARL dormitory, “will also all use the new building in the future,” Dawson said. “We hope to have meetings, small conferences and allow researchers to use it for collaboration. Our K-12 program may use it as well.”
Project bids for the SNARL classroom were due April 15. The aim is to break ground in May, Dawson said.
“Our lecture series for 2014 will still be in the Green Church,” he said, “but we’re hoping in 2015 it’ll be in this new building.”
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SNARL classroom project wins UC Santa Barbara Green Grant award
The UC Santa Barbara Current, April 24, 2014