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Award Winning Fahy Commons at Muhlenberg College

December 6, 2023

The Fahy Commons building at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, PA recently won three major sustainability awards.  ATAS International manufactured the 24-gauge steel 2” Field-Lok standing seam metal roof panels, 15-1/4” wide, for this building.  A solar array consisting of 183 panels was installed over the Standstone colored metal roof panels. 

Standing seam metal panels are the ideal choice for a rooftop solar system because of their long service life.  When installing solar panels (typically warranted for 25 years of power generation), a building owner benefits from a roofing substrate that has a greater life expectancy than the solar panels.  The solar panels can be installed to the metal panel seams using special clamps, without any roof penetrations. 

One of the awards Fahy Commons received was a Green Building United 2023 Groundbreaker Award, in the Sustainable New Development or Major Renovation category.  The award program read, “Fahy Commons is the first building in the world to reach the ambitious goal of Living Building Challenge (LBC) Core Ready certification, incorporating a myriad of features that positively impact the local campus ecology while highlighting the College’s commitment to environmental stewardship and a vibrant and inclusive community.  At the heart of Fahy Commons’ design, energy efficiency is achieved through efficient HVAC systems, cutting-edge lighting technologies and a super-insulated envelope reducing building energy use 70% over conventional structures.  In addition, a 73kW rooftop solar array generates renewable energy, contributing to the building’s net-zero energy goals.”  Energy efficiency and carbon reduction were of high importance in the design of this building.  The use of locally sourced, low-toxicity, and low-embodied carbon materials helped to reduce the building’s carbon footprint.

Other awards include a top Architectural Excellence Committee on the Environment (COTE) Award, inspiring sustainable, resilient, and inclusive design, from the American Institute of Architects’ Pennsylvania chapter.  Fahy Commons was also named the higher education winner of the international 2023 METROPOLIS Planet Positive Awards. 

This project is on track to become the first Living Building Challenge Core Green Building Certified structure in the world.  It is also pursuing the LEED Platinum and Passive House certifications.  In addition to the production of energy from the rooftop solar panels, the building also collects rainwater utilizing a harvesting system and cistern that recycles water for gray water use.  This system is enclosed behind glass doors as an educational benefit, and when combined with the low flow fixtures in the building, it reduces the building’s potable water consumption by over 50%.  Continuous fresh-air ventilation ensures optimal air circulation throughout the building, and self-dimming lights help to make use of the natural lighting, reducing energy usage.  Triple-glazed windows feature bird-friendly glass coating, through which occupants can view the beautiful surroundings.  Biophilic elements of windows and outdoor spaces engage occupants in direct and indirect experiences with nature, promoting mental well-being and connection with the surrounding environment to prioritize the holistic health and comfort of Fahy’s occupants.  Although care was taken to minimize the number of trees that were taken down for construction of the building, those that were removed were made into custom tables and benches for the new facility.  Attention to nature was imperative in the design of Fahy Commons; even special bricks that can house bees were incorporated into the structure.  Native landscaping that does not require irrigation and petrochemical fertilizers were planted.  Green cleaning products are used to maintain a toxic-free interior environment.  

Through a generous gift from Gerald P. Fahy (Muhlenberg College class of 1979) and Cathleen A. Fahy, this three-story building was made possible.  The building opened in January of 2023 and features more than 22,000 square feet of student programming and academic space, including the Office of Community Engagement, Innovation & Entrepreneurship Program, Makerspace, Institute of Public Opinion, Division of Graduate and Continuing Education, Religious & Spiritual Life, and the new art studios and classroom spaces.     The architect/designer for Fahy Commons was Re:Vision Architecture of Philadelphia, PA and the contractor was Whiting Turner of Bethlehem, PA.  The engineer was BSEG of Allentown, PA and the metal roof was installed by Alan Kunsman Roofing & Siding, Inc.  Muhlenberg College is the owner of the building.

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