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New PVCC tech center to be first building at Virginia college to achieve net-zero energy

When it comes to school, zeros are usually not a good sign of performance. But when it comes to Piedmont Virginia Community College’s newest building, net zero is the goal.

Based on the designs of locally based Tiger Solar and VMDO Architects, the future Woodrow W. Bolick Advanced Technical and Student Success Center at PVCC’s campus outside Charlottesville will be the first higher education facility in Virginia and one of the few community college buildings in the country to achieve net-zero energy.

Plans for the two-story, 45,000-square-foot building began to come together in the spring of 2020, when then-Gov. Ralph Northam released his 2020 Virginia Clean Economy Act mandating that utilities based in the commonwealth, such as Dominion Energy and Appalachian Power, produce 100% clean energy by 2050.

However, the original draft for the Bolick building did not include the 1,000 solar panels or battery-supported backup system that Tiger Solar and VMDO have planned for the building now. The panels lining the roof as well as canopies over windows and a carport will ensure that the building runs entirely on clean energy, according to Tiger Solar President Russ Edwards.

The push for a net-zero structure arose from the faculty and staff at PVCC, according to Dean of Student Affairs Andrew Renshaw.

“The faculty and staff of the college underlined how important this issue was to them,” Renshaw told The Daily Progress. “It was a grassroots effort on their part to ensure this new building had these new features. Local legislation and the president at the time were very supportive in digging up the additional funding to help with the net-zero drive.”

The center will become an academic, administrative and social nucleus for PVCC when it opens to students in the fall of 2024. Construction is projected to finish in June and the school will spend the summer moving operations into the building. At full capacity it will host offices for admissions, advising and career services, new student onboarding, student organizations, collaboration spaces, a veterans resource center and cafe.

“The PVCC faculty, staff and students are committed to a clean energy future for Virginia,” said PVCC’s former president, Frank Friedman, in a statement released by VMDO in June 2021. “We are so pleased to be leading the way by constructing this net zero energy building which will become the centerpiece of our beautiful campus.”

Most of the $26 million that was invested into the building came from the commonwealth, though the school put up $2 million, according to Scott Jeffries, PVCC’s vice president of finance and administrative services.

A key role the building will play is spelled out in the name, as it will host PVCC’s advanced technical training department. The building will provide students with access to state-of-the art manufacturing, robotics, cybersecurity and forensics labs driven in part by some of the college’s partnerships with local industries.

“We have a good relationship with some of the industry leaders in the region,” said Jeffries. “We want to create and carve out a unique pipeline where our students are getting top-of-the-line educational opportunities here while meeting the needs of the local workforce. We’re preparing them for successful, high-paying jobs that benefit them and our region.”

PVCC students will have the opportunity to learn and practice on equipment being used in a range of manufacturing, defense and architectural corporations such as defense contractor Northrop Grumman, architectural millwork firm Gaston & Wyatt, provider and manufacturer of headspace analysis platforms and measurement services Lighthouse Instruments and the National Radio Astronomy Observatory.

“Students will get to train on equipment that is being used in a high-paying, high-demand industry,” said Renshaw, who added the impact of the center will only “add to the economic vitality of the community.”


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