A 2011 survey by the Princeton Review indicates that 69 percent of college-age students not only evaluate academic and financial-assistance programs when selecting a school, but also the school's commitment to sustainable design principles.

Who knew? The University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana, for one.

While the State of Illinois remains awash in red, the U of I has managed to cobble together funding for one the most aggressive capital expenditure programs in its 145-year history, one that places particular emphasis on green construction.

In 2010, its work on the university's Business Instructional Building, a LEED Platinum facility requiring only half the energy of comparable campus buildings, earned KJWW Consulting Engineers, Rock Island, Ill., the American Council of Engineering Companies of Illinois Eminent Conceptor Award, the most prestigious honor of its kind in the state and one more typically reserved for complex civil work.

The project set the table for future undertakings. Today, U of I – home to 31,000 undergraduates – requires that all new construction and major renovations meet LEED Gold standards.

In addition to dozens of smaller projects, U of I currently is undertaking three major sustainable projects collectively valued at $250 million. Two of them broke ground in 2011 and will appear on ENR Midwest's Top Starts list, which will be published in full in the magazine's March 26 edition.

For these reasons, and for the sheer breadth of its ongoing construction programs, ENR Midwest has selected U of I as the Midwest region's Owner of the Year. As part of its Top Starts package, ENR Midwest will present full coverage U of I's construction activities in the March 26 edition.

In the meantime, here are some highlights of the university's current and recent projects:

Electrical and Computer Engineering Building
-- This $95-million, 230,000-sq-ft project, which broke ground in November 2011, is designed to promote interdisciplinary collaboration, and will house research labs to address thin film and charged particles, optical physics, and electromagnetism, as well as spaces for the university’s power and energy systems, materials research, remote sensing, and space sciences groups. The building is targeting LEED Platinum certification and will serve as a sustainability prototype for future university projects. Sustainable considerations include a terra cotta rainscreen cladding system in conjunction with an R-30 thermal envelope for enhanced energy performance, passive solar design features such as building orientation, 30 percent overall glazing, and exterior shading devices to optimize daylighting and reduce energy loads. In addition to maintaining a palette that complements surrounding brick buildings, terra cotta baguettes provide shading for 80 percent of glazing. Finally, the ECE Department is seeking a net zero energy design that will allow it to supply 100% of the building's energy demands by adopting renewable energy systems once construction is completed.

  • Ikenberry Commons – This multi-year, multi-phase project seeks to replace all six residence halls in Champaign with eight new facilities that will ring a common courtyard and house a total of 3,500 students Having recently completed the project's first phase – a new $73-million, residence hall and central dining facility – the University broke ground last year on a second 450-suite facility valued at $78.1 million. Rather than seeking LEED silver certification like its predecessor, the project is targeting gold, in keeping with the recent mandate that construction meet LEED Gold standards.

  • Lincoln Hall – Begun in March 2010, this two-and-half year, $80-million project seeks to rehabilitate a century-old classroom building while achieving LEED Gold certification. The project calls for largely gutting and reorganizing interior spaces, as well as equipping the facility with new wiring and equipment to accommodate “smart” technology in classrooms; installing new double-glazed windows that replicate the appearance of the original one;, and performing energy-efficient mechanical and electrical upgrades.

  • U of I is seeking to reduce energy consumption 20 percent by 2025 and achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. Thus far, it has implemented several measures to decrease energy use, including temperature setbacks, energy management systems, and chilled water, electric, and steam metering. Technologies such as economizers and heat recovery systems also been installed. By installing dual-flush toilets and low-flow faucets, shower heads, and urinals across campus, the university has decreased water consumption 20 percent since 2005.