Green prescription

New hospital adapts to its environment and uses natural light

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Print this page by Carlos Santos

The new Martha Jefferson Hospital has taken note of the Charlottesville area’s love of recycling and sustainability. During construction of its building on Pantops Mountain in Albemarle County, 95 percent of the debris was recycled.  

And “instead of leveling off the mountain, we worked with the hill itself,” says Barbara Elias. She served as project director for the 540,000-square-foot hospital situated on 84 acres, which opened in August. “It’s in harmony with the topography.”

The new hospital building, which cost $295 million to build and employs some 1,600 people, replaced Martha Jefferson’s aging Locust Avenue location in Charlottesville and increased its size by more than 200,000 square feet.

As a result, three of the hospital’s five floors are actually below ground. The whole hospital — a combination of gray stonework, slate and taupe-colored siding — blends with the earth. Glass walls bring in the sunlight. “Exposure to natural light heals patients faster,” says Elias. “It’s good for the staff, too.”  Putting in more windows also meant fewer lights are used.

Martha Jefferson is LEED-certified and boasts parking spaces for low-emission or fuel-efficient vehicles. A pond is used to irrigate the grounds, which are planted with drought-resistant and native plants, Elias says. Showers and kitchen faucets are all low-flow. Many work stations have individual thermostat controls, which save energy, and sensors throughout the building automatically shut off the lights when no movement is detected.

Recycling has been a mission at the hospital for a good while. In the eight months beore the opening of the new hospital, the old hospital recycled about 59 tons of paper, 33 tons of cardboard, 55 tons of X-ray film, 17 tons of wood pallets, 1.44 tons of cooking oil and six tons of scrap metal.

Bill Weigold, the hospital’s director of environmental services, says the hospital captured about 36 percent of the total waste — well above its goal of 25 percent. “We’re doing here at the new hospital what we did at the old hospital … we’re always looking at the feasibility of different recycling.”
That would include, for example, possibly sending food preparation waste — such as potato skins — to a local composter.

 “It was in the forefront of our thinking that we wanted to be sustainable,” says Elias of the new hospital. “We want to take sustainability further and create a green team.”  That team would keep sustainability issues in front of employees.

While there’s no doubt going green is a bit more expensive, Elias says, “it’s the right thing to do.”

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