RIVER FALLS, Wis. — Plans call for a science and technology building at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls to be state of the art.

The proposed Science and Technology Innovation Center would include a dedicated makerspace and high-tech laboratory facilities where students and faculty would tackle projects in a building meant to foster relationships with private business.

UWRF Chancellor Dean Van Galen earlier this year said SciTech has “the potential to dramatically impact the experience of our students and provide them and our faculty with more opportunities to engage with each other, as well as spur development of new relationships with external partners and employers.”

A UWRF student wants to take it a step further.

Freshman Noura Kassem is circulating a petition seeking to construct SciTech through top-tier green building practices. The process is through Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, which independently verifies building projects according to things like energy savings, water efficiency and carbon emissions.

It’s a high standard and Kassem is reaching for the very top — a LEED platinum designation. Mark Klapatch, sustainability/facilities manager for the university, said that would involve analysis of the building site, construction materials and ongoing sustainability operations once it’s built.

Kassem, an environmental studies major, said that could mean things such as a green roof, where students could integrate classwork through projects where the building itself becomes an instructional tool.

“Our education wouldn’t just be theoretical,” Kassem said. “That would be amazing.”

Noura Kaseem
Noura Kaseem

If the effort takes hold, Klapatch said it would make River Falls the first UW campus to have a platinum-certified LEED building. The Jesse H. Ames Suites is the only LEED-certified building on the UWRF campus.

Klapatch and Kassem said a platinum designation would add a higher level of distinction to the campus and possibly serve as a recruiting tool for students.

Klapatch said he applauds her effort.

“I’m excited about it,” he said.

Kassem said she was first moved by environmental issues in high school. She recalled tearing up over a documentary in an environmental science class. Classmates gave her some grief, but she said she couldn’t help but be deeply moved.

“I’m like, ‘this is our earth,’” said Kassem, who aims to become an environmental lawyer. “The earth is our home.”

Kassem is search of at least 500 signatures — she had 420 as of Dec. 2 — and has sought out support from the greater River Falls community as part of the effort. She said she hopes to gain Student Senate’s blessing before presenting the request to university administration.

“We just need as much support as we can,” Kassem said.

But university officials said LEED platinum-certified green features would likely increase the building’s $111 million price tag — a component that will be closely considered by lawmakers as SciTech competes with other building projects seeking state funds.

“There’s a lot of dynamics in play,” Klapatch said.

Design and architecture processes haven’t yet begun for SciTech — funding for that aspect was approved in the latest state budget — which makes it hard for UWRF campus pPanner Dale Braun to speculate on how much a LEED platinum effort would add to the overall cost. Still, he said “we’re always open to options on how to make a building more sustainable.”

And, if it gets built, the SciTech building would be green either way. Even if UWRF does not pursue the formal LEED process, Braun said standards for state building projects means it would be constructed to the equivalent of LEED silver status.

He said platinum-level status could be challenging for SciTech, simply by virtue of the fact that it’s a science building. Braun pointed to fume hoods used in those facilities that suck out air — features that make high-level recirculation harder.

Braun said that doesn’t mean LEED platinum isn’t at least worth considering, however.

“We are definitely going to look,” he said.