With a $7.15 billion economic impact, 25,000-plus employees and research awards topping $500 million, it’s clear UAB is positioned to continue making an impact locally and globally.
Melody Gillezeau, who joined UAB a year ago as project manager for sustainable project development in the Facilities Division, plans to combine UAB’s economic impact and her know-how to create lasting, sustainable change, both on campus and within the Birmingham community.
Gillezeau has nearly a decade of experience working with architecture and design. As a sustainability consultant with global design and architecture firm Gensler, she worked with clients to build administrative offices and headquarters that focused on energy and water savings, smart materials choices — including recyclable or renewable materials — and providing optimal air quality.
She later moved to Central America to work in Gensler’s Costa Rica office, working on government and ecotourism projects and training employees for sustainable architecture work in countries such as Mexico, Brazil and Colombia. Her expertise influenced public policy in Costa Rica; Gillezeau worked closely with First Lady Claudia Dobles Camargo, wife of current Costa Rican President Carlos Alvarado Quesada. While campaigning, the First Lady, who is an architect and urban planner, sought Gillezeau’s input when building her platform, which encourages the Costa Rican government to replace the nation’s use of fossil fuels with renewable energy sources.
“We wanted to ensure we served our clients and delivered the best buildings we could, environmentally and within our budget,” she said.
“Our standards are the set of requirements that we hold ourselves to internally, but that are publicly available and transparent. What I’m working on is the UAB baseline – the requirements we hold ourselves to for good environmental impact. We want to do better than just what’s required of us as an institution.”
Growing responsibly and sustainably
At Gensler, Gillezeau honed the skills that make her valuable as UAB’s project manager for sustainable project development, and she wants to ensure that UAB is the best possible steward of its resources, both fiscally and environmentally, consistent with UAB's Shared Values.
The foundation for UAB’s sustainable future is already built: The university takes sustainable steps when it demolishes buildings — monitoring air quality to ensure it remains in safe ranges and encouraging contractors to find opportunities to recycle and reuse materials to divert waste from Alabama’s landfills, for example — and when it constructs new ones. UAB recently published indoor air quality and construction waste plans, which will govern all future university projects. The new College of Arts and Sciences building, slated to open this fall, will be UAB’s first LEED-certified building, which ensures electricity cost savings, lower carbon emissions and healthier environments for the places people live, work, learn and play. Residence Hall 2020 also will be LEED-certified.
Part of Gillezeau’s job entails coordinating LEED applications on campus.
“LEED is an excellent way to organize the different tiers of building sustainability,” she said. “What we’ve found is that many of the building elements that make sense in Birmingham’s climate also help earn LEED points for efficient and resilient design, such as cool roofs which help lower cooling costs.”
But LEED certification is not the end of a sustainability strategy for any project, said Gillezeau, who wants to take it a step further. She’s working to revamp UAB’s standards for maximum building sustainably, going beyond just adhering to state building codes, and using those new standards to inspire Birmingham and beyond.
“I’m excited that UAB is using its immense influence and economic impact to encourage all of our local partners to make good environmental choices for the built environment.”
“Our standards are the set of requirements that we hold ourselves to internally, but that are publicly available and transparent,” she said. “When you’re building something new, you have to adhere to building code, but code is just what is required. What I’m working on is the UAB baseline – the requirements we hold ourselves to for good environmental impact. We want to do better than just what’s required of us as an institution.”
Because UAB sets many of its own standards for projects, it can hold local services and talent accountable to comply with those standards, Gillezeau says, which not only helps UAB become more sustainable, but influences Birmingham suppliers and contractors to implement sustainable practices. Eventually, Gillezeau aspires to make all of UAB’s new standards public so other companies or institutions, local or global, can replicate the ways in which UAB successfully implements sustainability. This is nothing but a positive for Birmingham, she says.
“I’m excited that UAB is using our immense influence and economic impact to encourage all of our local partners to make good environmental choices for the built environment,” she continued.
Sustainable transit options
Gillezeau is dedicated to providing better biking options on campus. For an urban campus such as UAB, it’s important to provide safe places to ride and park bicycles, she says. In addition to anticipating the need for more bike parking for new construction, Gillezeau plans to add more racks and storage near existing buildings.
“Sustainability is driven by accountability to future generations. We’re proud to use our design and construction dollars to not only enhance sustainability, but to make sure we are delivering a campus to students, faculty and staff that we can look at decades later and be proud of.”
Employees or students who work in non-patient care buildings can park their bicycles in private offices, according to UAB’s policy on bicycle and other wheeled mobility devices. Bike owners who work in buildings that offer patient care or don’t have private offices can park their bicycles in one of hundreds of bike racks on campus, and School of Medicine cyclists can stow their bike in one of 22 bike lockers on the ground-floor plaza of Lister Hill Library.
“We are making sure we provide safe places to park bikes so that someone who would like to bike to work isn’t dissuaded by not having a convenient and safe place to leave it during the day,” Gillezeau said. “We’re both planning ahead and refocusing on our older buildings so that people can participate in those healthier practices.”
All these changes are voluntary, Gillezeau continues, but show that UAB is committed to making a positive environmental impact.
“We have a triple-bottom-line focus,” she continues. “Sustainability is driven by accountability to future generations. We’re proud to use our design and construction dollars to not only enhance sustainability, but to make sure we are delivering a campus to students, faculty and staff that we can look at decades later and be proud of.”