The IKM-Designed Murtha Center seeks LEED Certification Embracing the ‘Can-do’ Mission

Sketchup model by IKM Architects Pittsburgh design of the UPJ Pitt Johnstown Murtha Center
The IKM-Designed Murtha Center seeks LEED Certification Embracing the ‘Can-do’ Mission

At the groundbreaking for the Murtha Center, Joyce Murtha quoted President Theodore Roosevelt who once said, “It is not the critic who counts; … the credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena.” She said, “I think Jack liked that because when things got tough, he could read it and think, ‘I can handle this.’ And, that is what this Center for Public Service will instill … in young people whether it is politics or the military or their community.”

Embracing the spirit of the can-do attitude, the leadership at Pitt Johnstown and the design team from IKM committed to pursuing sustainable strategies for the Pitt Johnstown Murtha Center project.

“The goal is to achieve LEED Certification,” said Mike McDonnell, AIA, Principal in charge for IKM.  “During the pre-design phase, sustainable design strategy discussions comprised three categories: project site, building envelope / systems, and building interior.”

Sustainable Strategies: Project Site

The project site includes the new building footprint, entrance walkway, memorial garden, and the reconfigured portion of the existing campus parking lot. IKM’s landscape architect, Sara Moore of Moore Design Associates, was an instrumental design team member in the site development decisions.

“The initial goal was to optimize the sustainable design strategies in the limited area of the site being disturbed,” said Moore.  “One approach is to use native planting to eliminate the need for irrigation, while also aiding in storm water management. For the Murtha Center project, in conceptual design, we proposed remembrance garden, nestled with lush landscape of native woodland and flowering trees, shrubs and seasonal perennials to connect visitors with nature.”

Early in the design process, IKM also used study models, like the one pictured below to look at sun and wind paths to aid in locating the building in a way to take advantage of daylight as well as to mitigate conditions of prevailing winter winds prevalent at the proposed entrance and on the site in general.


IKM explored other site design opportunities. Given the central site location of the building in relation to the campus, students and faculty are able to take advantage of two alternative transportation options, the University Shuttle and the public bus lines that stop nearby. Lastly, the project will reduce its heat island affect and light pollution by choosing a highly reflective roof and by reducing the amount of light emitted through the building envelope during nighttime hours.

Sustainable strategies: Building Envelope/ Systems

Since the Murtha Building is new construction, the design of the building envelope and building systems are crafted to work together to create a higher performing building.

“Strategies to design the building systems to reduce use per the ASHREA Standard 90.1 are incorporated,” said Melanie Como Harris, AIA, LEED AP BD+C, LEED Administrator for the USGBC process on the IKM design team.  “The building envelope was designed to be a high efficiency envelope incorporating high performance insulation. Special attention was given to control heat gain at the west facing glass.”

A better envelope reduces the size needed for the mechanical systems.  In addition, premium efficient motors, mixed mode systems, variable frequency drives for pumps and fans, and control strategies for mechanical and electrical systems are some of the methodologies incorporated in the IKM design. A commissioning agent, separate from the design team, will ensure the new systems are performing at optimum levels.

Sustainable Strategies: Materials

Sustainable materials used in both the exterior and interior of the building promote the reduction of raw material use and create a more pleasant indoor environmental quality. The project will also be tracking the construction waste, the recycled and regional material content of construction materials, and the VOC levels of construction materials. Monitoring air quality during construction and flushing out the building prior to occupancy will ensure optimum indoor air quality levels.

Currently under construction, the John P. Murtha Center for Public Service, designed by IKM Incorporated Architects of Pittsburgh, will be a newly-constructed, one-story event center of approximately 7,400 SF. The focus of the building is a 200-person multi-purpose space. A pre-function space doubles as a lobby during events and a Veterans’ Lounge during the general operating hours. There is also office space for two staff members and support space for the multi-purpose room.

In April, the project team submitted their Final Design Review to USGBC and has already started tracking and reviewing the construction materials. Construction is scheduled to be completed in December 2016.

(This post adapted from IKM’s Green Newsletter, Spring 2016, written by Melanie Como Harris, AIA, NCARB, LEED AP BD+C  and Mindy Coblentz, AIA, LEED AP BD+C. Click the <Request Our Latest Newsletter> to receive a copy and be added to our mailing list.)