A state-of-the-art new media education center in New York earns LEED Gold. 

The Media Arts Lab showcases many sustainable components.


The Jacob Burns Film Center in Pleasantville, N.Y., was founded in 2001 with a dual mission of film exhibition and education. The organization’s groundbreaking education programs enhance and modernize traditional curricula as well as equip students from ages 3 through college and beyond with skills needed to compete in a world dominated by visual media and 21st century technology.

The demand for this education program curriculum led the center to launch a “Campaign for 21st Century Education” in 2006 to provide for the design and construction of a “center for celebrating the stories that live in each and every person” - the Media Arts Lab.  

This new multimedia educational facility is designed to support the center’s educational programming and to be flexible so that as technology and programming continue to evolve, the building can evolve along with them. With the opening of the Media Arts Lab in January 2009 in conjunction with the original Film Center building down the street, Jacob Burns Film Center emerged as the country’s largest state-of-the-art film and education center dedicated to advancing a new definition of literacy, surpassing such elite institutions as LucasArts and MIT.

About 85% of students in Westchester County, a vast swath that ranges from the ultra-wealthy in Scarsdale and Chappaqua to lower-income cities such as Mount Vernon and Yonkers, use the Burns Center education programs. More than half are in underserved school districts. Education sessions are held during school hours, after school, evenings and weekends with a vast range of student classes, adult education and family programs.

The center is LEED Gold certified

The Building

The Media Arts Lab at the Jacob Burns Film Center is a new three-story, 27,000-square-foot educational facility offering instructional programs in many forms of filmmaking and multimedia appreciation. Major program spaces include: classrooms; a recording studio; sound stage and foley room (where sounds are created or altered for use in film or video); a 60-seat screening room; 16 editing suites; claymation and animation labs; shop space; executive offices; and a two-story, multipurpose center studio for gatherings and events. The accessible rooftop provides a deck area, which allows occasional viewing of film productions and events.

In addition, the owner was motivated by the concept that a building can function as an educational tool. Being environmentally minded, the owner chose to have the building registered with the U.S. Green Building Council for the highest level of Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification that could be achieved within the budget.

To promote this educational component to the community, the building has “green fact” signs throughout calling attention to sustainable features and elements with explanations and notes on the impact of green to the world. The building has achieved a LEED Gold rating and recently unveiled the plaque at a ceremony at the facility.

The center uses a geothermal heating and cooling system.

Hawthorne, N.Y.-based O’Dea, Lynch, Abbattista Consulting Engineers (OLA) designed with a focus on energy efficiency. The owner was committed to sustainable goals, including the use of a geothermal heating and cooling system. The energy model shows an overall building energy performance that is 30% more efficient than the LEED baseline building and an Energy Use Index (EUI) of 45 kBtu/ft2.          

The building’s HVAC system consists of a series of small unitary Carrier geothermal heat pumps throughout the building to minimize ductwork due to low floor–to-floor heights caused by building-height restrictions. Because the heat pumps are of small heating/cooling capacity, a central dedicated outdoor air system was utilized to distribute neutral-temperature outdoor air to the intake of each heat pump unit. This outdoor air system consists of a Annexair ERV (energy recovery ventilator) variable-air-volume air-handler with an enthalpy wheel for energy recovery between the unconditioned outdoor air and the conditioned exhaust air for the building. The system utilizes a demand-controlled ventilation scheme to limit the total outdoor air needed to provide ventilation per code. 

A carbon dioxide sensor in each zone operates a VAV box to vary the amount of outdoor air provided to the zone. The air handler adjusts the overall amount of outdoor air delivered in response to the VAV boxes throughout the building. Other HVAC system features include the use of R410A non-ozone depleting refrigerant and high-efficiency MERV 13 filters on all air-handling equipment.

Great care was taken in routing all ductwork and piping due to ceiling restrictions.

For the two-story center studio space with floor-to-ceiling glass, a radiant floor system was used to maintain the comfort of the occupants in winter while not having to heat the full air volume of the space, thus saving energy. A small Lochinvar condensing boiler was installed to serve this radiant floor system, which incorporates products from Viega and pumps from Bell & Gossett. In addition to the increased occupant comfort, the radiant floor maximizes the efficiency of the condensing boiler system by maintaining low return water temperature allowing the boilers to condense.

The restrooms are served by a dedicated 100% outside air heat-recovery unit from Annexair HRV (heat recovery ventilator), which utilizes a plate-to-plate cross-flow type heat exchanger to recover energy from the exhaust air. Plate-to-plate heat exchangers are utilized to eliminate the potential of cross-flow air contamination based on the leakage in desiccant wheel energy recovery units. 

The plumbing design for the building utilized ultra-low flow toilets from American Standard, waterless urinals from http://www.falconwaterfree.com Falcon Waterfree Technologies and ultra-low flow lavatory faucets to achieve more than a 50% water usage savings compared to a baseline building meeting the requirements of the Energy Policy Act of 1992 per LEED NC (for new construction). This water use reduction coupled with the utilization of the condensing boilers with an indirect storage heater from Lochinvar as the heat source for domestic water heating provided significant energy savings. The indirect storage heater also included connections for a future solar-thermal system.

The roof features a sawtooth design with north facing windows over the executive office space below, allowing natural light into the central office area. This allows for minimal use of artificial lighting during the day. Daylight harvesting lighting controls ensures artificial lighting is off when adequate natural light is available. The sloped south façades of the sawtooth features photovoltaic solar-electric generating panels totaling more than 14 kW of generation, which supplies 7% of the electric demands of the building.

Heat pumps and compressors included vibration isolation and acoustic blankets to minimize noise.

The building is located on a very tight site, bounded on two sides by busy county roads with a drive lane immediately adjacent to the building on the other two sides. A small parking area for 12 cars is all that would fit in the remaining site area. One of the owner’s requirements for this green building was a geothermal heating and cooling system. Laying out a closed-loop, vertical-well, ground-source system on the site with proper spacing between the wells yielded 30 490-foot-deep wells to meet the cooling load.

The site was so tight that the size of the drill rig within the property line and adjacent to the building footprint had to be figured in while laying out the well field. The heating and cooling capacity of the well field was inadequate for the initially calculated building loads. OLA utilized the addition of energy recovery transferring latent and sensible loads from exhaust air to incoming outdoor air for ventilation. This allowed the loads to be reduced and to meet the capacity of the available well field.

The local zoning ordinances placed a height restriction on the building, but the program dictated three floor levels plus basement were needed, which caused the floor-to-floor height to be significantly compressed. The use of smaller unitary equipment to maintain small ductwork and eliminating ceilings in many areas helped to create the illusion of higher ceiling spaces. Great care was taken in routing all ductwork and piping to maximize headroom and maintain the space’s aesthetic appeal.

While small units throughout the building and exposed ductwork helped with the height restrictions, the units and the associated compressors made meeting acoustic goals more challenging. As much of the space in the building is for production and editing of sound and video, there are strict acoustic requirements (including the recording studio).

To minimize noise, each heat pump was installed with vibration isolation and acoustic blankets on the compressors. Acoustic silencers were installed in ductwork, and the ductwork was sized to minimize air velocities, thus reducing airborne noise. OLA designed an angle filter section that reduced the impact of the high-efficiency filters on static pressure and enabled the heat pumps with modest fan horsepower to be located a little further from the spaces they serve.

OLA strived to develop a design that works well at either peak or partial loads to meet energy goals.

In working to meet the energy goals, OLA strived to develop a design that enabled the building to work well at peak load as well as at partial loads. Heat pumps were selected to allow the airflow to vary using ECM motors. In addition, the option of multiple two-way modulating valves on the condenser water side enable the well pumps to modulate to reduce flow and horsepower while maintaining accurate flow/temperature control.   

The project received financial incentives from the New York State Energy Research & Development Authority New Construction Program for energy conservation measures and technical assistance cost-sharing for energy analysis and commissioning.

The owner, who notes the project came in within budget, took occupancy of the building and began classes on time in January 2009. The client’s vision of a building that would educate and promote environmental stewardship was met and exceeded. The construction manager commented that because of the efforts of the design and construction teams, this was the first building utilizing a geothermal system that started up as simply as flipping the switch.

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