The MARET Center Merits Attention

One of the most heartening — and crucial — developments of the 21st century has been the move by society to embrace sustainability in energy and environmental building design. With natural gas supplies becoming limited, and with the global environmental impact of coal-fired electricity generation, it is high time to increase energy efficiency. As the building sector consumes 48 percent of the nation’s energy, what better way to do this than with a building that utilizes renewable energy while also being superbly comfortable?

Drawing on nearly three decades of pioneering technical innovation and international energy competitions, Crowder College is building Missouri’s first educational facility to be completely powered by renewable energy. The 2,500-student community college was designated as Missouri’s first renewable energy education center by the Missouri state legislature in 1992. In 2005, a site was preliminarily established for a Missouri Alternative and Renewable Energy Technology (MARET) Center facility that would house Crowder’s solar lab, technical school, enterprise center, and Drafting & Design department, all under one roof.

In 2003, St. Louis-based architectural firm Kromm, Rikimaru & Johansen (KRJ) began collaborating with Crowder College to design a green facility to showcase this unusual academic program. Working from a $1M grant appropriation secured by U.S. Rep. Roy Blunt (R-Mo), KRJ is designing Missouri’s first net-positive energy prototype building at Crowder, which is located in the town of Neosho in southwestern Missouri.

Groundbreaking This Fall

After three years of planning and design refinement, ground will be broken this fall for the eagerly anticipated MARET Center. Created for the climate indigenous to Missouri and much of its neighboring states of Oklahoma, Kansas, and Arkansas, this technologically exciting and environmentally significant design takes into account the patterns of temperature, humidity, and wind velocity for the entire region.

The MARET facility is designed to take on the challenges of Climate Zone 4, which stretches from coast to coast, including most of Missouri, and experiences extremes of both high and low temperatures. In the Midwest especially, humidity also is a major factor. The MARET Center will use a mix of renewable energy resources, including wind, solar (for hot water and electricity generation), geothermal, and biomass — in combination with an efficient building envelope — to provide a comfortable, productive workspace.

Dr. Alan Marble, president of Crowder College, underscores the significance of this project.“The MARET Center is designed to confront some of the most important issues of our time,” he said.“We believe the positive advances that will come from this effort will have a reverberating effect for generations to come, and will serve as a catalyst for currently undreamed-of innovations in the future. This is a very exciting project.”

A Prototype to Gauge Impact

To more accurately gauge the impact that various energy sources will have on MARET, construction began on a 300-sq.-ft. prototype of the MARET Center in late 2006. Construction is due to be completed, and testing will begin, this month. Here we are testing the major objectives of the MARET program, such as energy-efficient construction practices, radiant heating and cooling, daylighting, and building geometry.

Information from this small structure will be utilized to improve the economy and the performance of systems for the 27,500-sq.-ft. MARET facility. Results determined from the prototype will be incorporated into the first phase of the MARET construction, which will complete one-third of the final structure, including its solar energy systems.

Approximately $4M in funds for the $10M facility has been raised thus far, with construction of the first phase scheduled for completion by summer 2008.

Additionally, the project integrates a variety of green construction practices such as an earth-sheltered design, a green roof, graywater treatment, rainwater harvesting, and low volatile organic compounds (VOC) interiors (such as paints) and furnishings. Since green construction is regional in nature, shipping distance for many of the materials being used must be limited to meet the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy Efficient Design (LEED) Green Building Rating certification program.

The embedded energy in the manufacturing processes for the building materials, finishes, and furnishings must also be considered. Beyond the building itself, the site plan utilizes permeable surfaces and bio-swales, which, along with rainwater harvesting, ensure aquifer recharge and minimize run-off. The mix of green practices, in fact, makes the MARET Center a candidate for Platinum LEED certification.

Net Positive Energy

The MARET Center is designed as one of the first working examples of a net positive energy structure, a step beyond “zero net energy” buildings that produce only enough renewable electricity for their own needs. Crowder College’s structure will be interconnected with the grid and provide a distributed power source to the electric utility.

In order to serve as a net energy producer, efficiency measures are combined with innovative energy sources within the structure. For example, the design utilizes thermal storage in both warm and chilled water tanks that feed ceiling panels for radiant heating and cooling as needed. Hybrid solar panels on the roof of the building, designed originally and developed at the MARET Center, provide both electricity and a source for heated and chilled water.

The use of both radiant heating and cooling is relatively unusual in the United States, and to date much research at the prototype building, which replicates the actual MARET Center that will be built, has been devoted to analysis of this energy source for both heating and cooling. Additionally, much experimentation has been taking place regarding various light sources that we hope to tap for MARET.

Daylighting is another important efficiency measure that has been incorporated for testing in the prototype structure. Daylighting involves the judicious arrangement of windows, skylights, and reflective surfaces so that, during daytime hours, natural light can provide effective internal illumination. This process can result in substantial energy savings by lowering the electrical consumption of artificial lighting, while also reducing the air conditioning required to eliminate heat caused by artificial lighting.

Innovative Programs Within

Educational programs housed within the MARET Center are as innovative as the structure itself. The curriculum at Crowder College includes passive solar design, solar thermal systems, wind and photovoltaic systems, alternative fuel vehicles, and best practices in construction technology. Much of the coursework is project-based, and the new building will provide a living laboratory for application of classroom theory. Besides academic functions, the facility will house a “business incubator and product development center,” making it a tool for economic development within the region.

Development of the MARET Center facility represents an unusual level of collaboration between the architect, the client, and the local community. Even in times of sparse funding during the last 30 years, the Crowder College administration consistently has supported its innovative energy programs.

That, in turn, has led to strong community pride and support, with more than half the funds for MARET coming from local private sources. The long-term commitment by the college also has resulted in development of several of the unique energy solutions for use in the new facility. These technologies, along with the creative design from KRJ, have resulted in an original, green design for the next century.

David Kromm is president and owner of Kromm, Rikimaru & Johansen (KRJ), a St. Louis-based architectural firm that offers complete architectural services including master planning and architectural and interior design. The company’s practice focuses on “architecture that builds communities” in three distinct areas: educational, religious, and civic facilities. For more information, contact 314/432-7020 or

Art Boyt is director of the MARET Center and instructs within the program. He has led student teams in competitive projects ranging from solar-powered cars to self-sufficient solar homes.