Location Iowa City, IA
Size 43,000 ft²
Completed 2011
Cost $30 million
Program IT facility, data center

What the new Information Technology Facility (ITF) at the University of Iowa lacks in aesthetics, it compensates for in pragmatic, sustainable innovation. With an outer shell designed to withstand F3 tornados and a rooftop strong enough to support 30 pounds per square foot of accumulated snow, it would be tough to bring this building down. Completed in December 2011, this $30 million, 43,000-square-foot building is the fifth LEED-certified building at the university but is the first campus project to achieve the LEED Platinum level. Hugh Barry, the University of Iowa’s project manager, takes us through the energy-saver.

Centralizing Functions 

As a result of the functions they house, IT facilities must be responsive to the dynamic needs of an IT schedule. The university had two data centers, but both were found to be deficient in almost every critical infrastructure category, including architectural, mechanical, electrical, protection, and security. To address this, the ITF centralizes the university’s IT functions and combats adverse extrinsic weather effects through continuous insulation, multiple buffer systems, and the use of small high-efficiency windows to reduce potential tornado debris damage.


Client University of Iowa
Architect SVPA Architects
Engineer EYP MCF
Civil Engineer Shive-Hattery
Structural Engineer Charles Saul Engineering
Landscape Architect Confluence
General Contractor Cardinal Construction
Electrical Hunt Electric
Mechanical Ryan & Associates
Construction Management Ryan Companies US

Team Assembly

To successfully design and build a green IT facility, University of Iowa needed a strong team. It tapped SVPA Architects of Des Moines for the design and Ryan Companies for full-time construction management, and Cardinal Construction acted as the general contractor. EYP Mission Critical Facilities designed the mechanical, electrical, fuel oil, plumbing, fire protection, and telecommunications aspects of the project. The LEED certification was facilitated by The Weidt Group.

Sustainably Sourced

During construction, 341 tons of construction waste was diverted from landfills, 86 percent of the total. Almost half of the construction materials were sourced within a 500-mile radius, and 55 percent of wood construction materials were FSC-certified. Low-VOC paints and finishes are used throughout. The structure also has high thermal-value building materials that exceed ASHRAE 90.1 standards by at least 30 percent, thus allowing for increased energy efficiency.

Platinum-Level Conservation

Contributing to the ITF’s LEED Platinum status are walls made from precast concrete sandwich panels equipped with edge-to-edge continuous insulation (No.1). The structure reduces permeability by using nonconductive material to connect the exterior concrete wythes and resist solar heat gain by used a non-perforated, white-membrane roof. Hardware in the ITF is Energy Star-rated. The plumbing fixtures are electronically activated and have ultra-low water flow, and electrical UPS units are 92 percent efficient when operating at 80 percent load.

“There was a high risk of losing computer services due to the inadequacy of our old facilities. That was the instigation for a new data center.” Hugh Barry, University of Iowa

“There was a high risk of losing computer services due to the inadequacy of our old facilities. That was the instigation for a new data center.”
Hugh Barry, University of Iowa


Certification LEED Platinum
Air Indoor air quality optimized by ventilation, thermal comfort, and green cleaning
Materials 55% FSC-certified wood, 32% of total construction materials recycled
Transportation Bicycle storage, carpool parking, shower facilities
Energy 71% energy savings
Landscape 7,800-square-foot bio-retention cell with 1,500 plantings

Local Landscape

In 1996, the University of Iowa completed a Campus Urban Forest Study to quantify local flora, and the ITF’s landscape is informed by this study, using oak hickory and oak savannah trees to help the structure correspond with the surrounding campus landscape. An on-site bio-retention cell receives 86 percent of building water runoff. The cell is divided into two sections to separate pre- and post-developed storm water; the latter is relegated to a detention pond with a shoreline reinforced by a 3-D turf mat.

Efficient Mechanical 

The most prominent energy drains in an IT structure are directly tied to the computing and server data halls, which must be kept cool and dry to ensure continued system functionality (No.2). With the solar load reduced on the building exterior, a 44-degree, campus chilled water supply and 405-ton backup air-cooled chiller system ensures consistent and uninterrupted temperature regulation. Computer room air handlers (CRAHs) are placed perpendicular to data center cabinet rows, creating aisles that are alternatingly hot and cold, a new industry standard for efficient data centers.

Enhanced Protection

Although the center is made to withstand exterior abuse, power interruptions threaten the integrity of the data systems. With sustainability and reliability in mind, critical data center electrical loads are protected by two 600-kilowatt uninterruptable power supply (UPS) systems in an N+1 configuration, which further guarantees against failure. In addition, the ITF incorporates a two-megawatt, prime-rated backup generator with selective catalytic reduction exhaust scrubbers to help meet the EPA Tier 4i requirement. A 15,000-gallon underground fuel-oil storage tank is located on-site, providing emergency fuel for 72 hours of full-load run time.