University opens ‘living lab’ of energy efficiency

Lighting systems will be monitored for energy use.

Building 661 at the Navy Yard was never a thing of beauty. Built in 1942, during the first months of U.S. involvement in World War II, the brick-and-concrete structure’s purpose was to house an indoor swimming pool, basketball courts, and offices, a function it pragmatically performed until the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard closed in 1995.

On April 24, the building, which has been unoccupied for nearly two decades, will begin a new life as headquarters of the Energy Efficient Buildings Hub, the two-year-old federally funded innovation center operated by Pennsylvania State University.

The EEB Hub plans to renovate the recreational building into a “living laboratory” of energy-efficient design. But it won’t necessarily employ the latest fancy-pants renewable-energy gizmos.

Rather, the mission of the Center for Building Energy Science is to help develop “scalable, repeatable, and cost-effective” systems that can be deployed into the real world, according to the U.S. Energy Department, which is funding the lab’s operations.

“There’s not a big appetite for experimentation in this space,” said deputy director Laurie Actman. “We’re very much about demonstration, deployment.”

Lighting systems, heating systems, and sensors embedded in the walls to monitor the building’s energy performance all will be of commonly available design.

Three parts of the building will use different mechanical systems, which will be contained behind a single glass wall for visitors to ogle – sure to become a mecca for the HVAC set and facilities managers.

New insulated panels will replace the 71-year-old concrete roof, which will be crushed and used to fill in the pool. Combined space from the pool and the basketball courts will become a great room, surrounded by a mezzanine and cooled with active chilled beams.