Every Drop Counts: Renewable Water Resources Laboratory & Environmental Education Center

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Most of us start our days with water. We drink it, shower in it, and use it to boil our eggs, or make our coffee. Most of us, at least in most cities in America, are fortunate enough to be able to turn on a tap and access plentiful, safe drinking water and we use it freely, to the tune of about 82 gallons per person per day. We often take clean water for granted because it appears to be so readily available. However, only about 1 percent of the water on earth is accessible at any given time for human use. 97 percent is salt water held in the oceans; the remaining freshwater is divided between groundwater, icecaps and snowpack, water vapor in the atmosphere, precipitation and runoff, and lakes and rivers. The 1 percent of available freshwater supplies not just household needs, but also agriculture and livestock, manufacturing, energy production, and other uses. Remember Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner, who found himself becalmed at sea. “Water, water, everywhere, nor any drop to drink,” he lamented. Those who study literature will remember that the Mariner had brought this fate upon himself by disrespecting nature. Wise use of this precious resource will serve us all well as the population on earth continues to grow.

Renewable Water Resources (ReWa), a renewable water organization founded in 1925, is dedicated to environmental stewardship of water in the Greenville, SC area and plans to be a part of the long-term solution. ReWa’s vision is to “be a community partner and an industry leader safeguarding our water environment for future generations,” a commitment founded upon water treatment infrastructure, industry partnerships, and community outreach. With 343 miles of trunk sewer lines to eight Water Resources Recover Facilities (WRRF), ReWa currently renews approximately 42 million gallons of wastewater per day. That’s about 2.4 million showers, 453.6 million cups of coffee, or 7 million dishwasher loads.

When ReWa needed a new water testing laboratory to keep up with best practices for modern lab environments and a growing demand for services, the goal was for a facility which would serve multiple functions. In keeping with ReWa’s values, the building needed to be high-performance, at once beautiful and functional. The targeted location, a brownfield site across the street from ReWa’s existing administration building, also offered opportunities to forge tangible connections between ReWa and the community while reclaiming and transforming the underutilized land. Additionally, because the program juxtaposes working lab space with public functions such as an education center, the layout called for legible divisions between public and private spaces. These primary goals of highperformance design, connectivity, and clarity drove the design, and LS3P’s design team was inspired and excited by the project’s challenges.






SITE RECLAMATION ReWa’s team informed LS3P, “If we (ReWa) don’t repurpose and rebuild on this particular site, no one else will.” The site, an abandoned former wastewater treatment plant, contained three massive, 110’L x 50’W x 30’ below-grade concrete tank structures. The innovative design, a collaboration between the owner, the architects, and the engineers, ultimately repurposed the underground tanks as deep foundations for the new building, eliminating the need for extensive excavation, reducing the associated time, and preserving the embodied energy. The structural design uses the tank walls as foundation piers, cutting the tops of the tanks so that grade beams spanning the tanks bear on the walls and create a finish floor height that works with the existing grade. With this problem solved, the team capitalized on opportunities to improve ReWa’s visibility from a major thoroughfare in order to strengthen community connections through increased visibility. The site reclamation exemplifies ReWa’s desire to enhance the community’s quality of life by transforming wastewater into renewable resources through responsible and innovative solutions.

HIGH-PERFORMANCE DESIGN Modern lab space supports authentic collaboration and encourages cross-disciplinary interactions. The design of the new labs incorporates best practices for lab design, including a blend of open labs, specialized labs, and shared bench spaces to facilitate communication. The labs and lab support areas are flexible and adaptable to accommodate evolving regulations and technologies. Befitting ReWa’s mission of environmental stewardship, the new facility is pursuing LEED Silver certification and includes strategies such as daylighting, energy recovery systems, a water use reduction plan, and onsite methane gas conversion to generate 1/3 of the campus energy demands. The design is as beautiful as it is functional, and appears to have grown out of its grassy site with a modern but timeless exterior palette of metal, stone, glass, and wood






CONNECTIVITY The new facility created rich opportunities to increase connectivity among staff, and connectivity between ReWa and the wider community. The building’s open, transparent design supports internal connections while providing program space for public educational opportunities. The striking design is welcoming and visible, helping to reflect ReWa’s brand and mission to all who see it, and the building is already bringing new energy to its neighborhood. The form makes the concept of connectivity tangible with architectural principles such as interlocking, overlapping, and transparency. The 17,700 SF main building houses 9,000 SF of open laboratory/lab support space, and 8,700 SF of shared and public spaces such as the lobby, conference room, and educational spaces. An openair Learning Pavilion adds another 1,900 SF of sheltered outdoor space to the program. The composition visually connects with the administration building across the street to unify the campus.

CLARITY The long, linear form with a straightforward organization serves both visitors and staff with clear divisions between public and back-ofhouse spaces. Visitor spaces are clustered in the main volume with the lobby, meeting spaces, and the covered outdoor learning pavilion which serves as a multifunctional meeting and classroom space. The design emphasizes transparency, and public circulation through the building provides framed views of the work happening in the laboratories. A wide sheltered porch helps connect the indoors and outdoors while creating a shaded gathering space for employees and visitors.

ReWa’s newest facility marks the beginning of a new chapter and new opportunities for the organization, and is a catalyst for “radical change” in how ReWa addresses underutilized sites in its network. The building will welcome community uses and support educational programming to support sustainable lifestyles for the public while providing state-of-the-art lab spaces for the staff. Further, the reclamation of the site is the first step in encouraging potential new development by other industry partners and organizations. ReWa’s investment in the site, the facility, and the community will yield long-term dividends for the environmental health and long-term sustainability of the region.