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News Release

For immediate use

May 23, 2006 -- No. 278

Students invest in 'green' technology
for botanical garden visitor education center

CHAPEL HILL - Students at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have awarded $210,000 to help build a "green" Visitor Education Center at the North Carolina Botanical Garden.

The student-run Renewable Energy Special Projects Committee made the group's largest award to date to help construct a geothermal well system as part of the center. A $4-per-semester student fee approved by students generated the funds.

"We wanted to demonstrate another type of renewable energy technology on our campus and encourage UNC to become a leader in green building," said Nathan Poslusny. Before graduating May 14 with highest honors and a bachelor's degree in biology, Poslusny, of Mercerville, N.J., headed the Renewable Energy Special Projects Committee.

The geothermal well system will significantly reduce the cost of heating and cooling the 29,000-square-foot Visitor Education Center. Geothermal wells act like a giant heat pump. Water circulates through deeply buried, sealed pipes, taking advantage of the earth's constant temperature of 55 degrees Fahrenheit to cool the building in summer and warm it in winter. With rising energy costs, experts say the geothermal wells will pay for themselves in less than nine years.

Other "green" features of the building will include photovoltaic panels that generate electricity from sunlight, rainwater cisterns and storm water "rain gardens," clerestory windows that harvest controlled daylight and locally sourced, non-toxic construction materials.

Plans for the center reflect an increasing awareness of the need for sustainable design on the UNC campus, said Cindy Pollock Shea, director of UNC's Sustainability Office.

"The botanical garden is leading UNC into an era of high-performance buildings that are environmentally responsible and reduce dependence on fossil fuels," Shea said.

Planners predict that the Visitor Education Center will set a new performance standard for buildings in the state and region. Upon completion, the project will apply for Platinum LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification from the U.S. Green Building Council, the highest standard granted for sustainable buildings.

Designed by Frank Harmon Architect of Raleigh, the center will welcome and orient visitors, and provide space for school classes and horticultural therapy activities as well as for interpretive exhibits and meeting space. It will be located on state-owned land near the existing Totten Center, south of the Carolina campus off Old Mason Farm Road near the U.S. 15-501 bypass.

Along with the student donation, the building will be funded with private gifts. So far, more than $6.5 million in gifts and pledges has been raised.

"We hope the funding will be complete within the year and plan to break ground for the Visitor Education Center in April 2007," said Dr. Peter White, director of the North Carolina Botanical Garden.

UNC students voted overwhelmingly to approve the fee that generated the $210,000 to fund the center's geothermal well system. The fee, which took effect in August 2004, also has paid for the installation of a solar hot water system on top of the renovated Morrison Residence Hall and the premium for the first year of biodiesel fuel use in the campus Point-to-Point bus system.

The North Carolina Botanical Garden is nationally known as a conservation garden. The staff manages more than 800 acres of land in the Chapel Hill area, including Battle Park, Forest Theatre, Mason Farm and the Coker Arboretum in the heart of the main UNC campus. More information on the garden is available at:


Architect's rendering of Visitor Education Center:

Note: Poslusny can be reached at (609) 731-1556 or; White can be reached at (919) 962-0522 or 962-6939 or; and Shea can be reached at (919) 843-5251 or

News Services contact: Lisa Katz, (919) 962-2093 or