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Grounds For Sculpture Sets the Gold Standard

About a 45-minute drive northeast of Philadelphia, Hamilton, New Jersey is home to Grounds For Sculpture, a 42-acre sculpture park, museum and arboretum. Challenging traditional ideas of museums, exhibitions and art viewership, Grounds For Sculpture houses contemporary sculptures and gardens that are designed to engage visitors with artwork in an accessible setting.

Three million visitors and counting have visited Grounds For Sculpture since it opened to the public in 1992. Visitors may first experience the sculpture park for a concert, hands-on workshop, or even in search of a good meal; but what they encounter is a fantastic collection of artwork, totaling nearly 300 works in the collection. At the core of Grounds For Sculpture is the belief that the public deserves an experience that illuminates and elevates the union of community and art.

In pursuit of this belief, the sculpture park administrators and board of trustees have taken a leading role in their community regarding energy use and sustainability. Thanks to their commitment—and the leadership of one trustee in particular—Grounds For Sculpture attained a Leadership in Environmental and Energy Design (LEED) v4.1 Gold certification this year, becoming the first Public Assembly project in the world to do so.


Choosing a Change

The Grounds For Sculpture non-profit organization has a history of excellence running day-to-day operations and curating the guest experience of the grounds. In 2014, their responsibilities expanded to include ownership of most of the sculpture collection, grounds and facilities.

With the new level of responsibility, the team needed a holistic strategy for maintaining the extensive grounds, preserving artwork, and managing facilities to continue delivering exemplary visitor experiences. It was certainly paramount to create efficiencies and reductions as cost increased. But it was also intrinsic to the sculpture park’s identity and values to practice responsible environmental stewardship and lead with an eye on the future. If they were going to lead, they would need to jump in with both feet.


Going for Gold

With a long-term sustainability vision, Board of Trustees member Dr. Barry Zhang advocated for obtaining a LEED certification, a hard-earned mark of achievement and quality earned by only the most innovative and sustainable buildings internationally. LEED projects are scored in nine categories, including sustainability, water efficiency, energy, materials, and environmental quality, and must be re-certified each year, ensuring that a LEED plaque only denotes facilities that are both ambitious and dedicated to their commitment to sustainability.

Zhang and the team set out to achieve LEED Gold certification for building operations at its Seward Johnson Center for the Arts, the largest of Grounds For Sculpture's facilities. As a first step, they completed an energy audit, identifying a handful of opportunities to reduce energy consumption, including installing high-efficiency light bulbs, setting timed HVAC schedules, and adjusting air dampers and compressors for efficiency. They began using exclusively biodegradable and sustainable products and supplies, reducing and eliminating paper where possible. The team also installed a state-of-the-art rainwater management system that supports and maintains native and exotic flora across the extensive gardens.

"We started tracking the purchasing of paper products, office paper, bathroom paper products. Even our trash bags are biodegradable," explains Matt Smith, Grounds For Sculpture Director of Facilities. “We installed electric dryers, too, and are constantly keeping track of the amount of water we use and energy we consume."


Reducing the Carbon Footprint

For energy supply, Grounds For Sculpture partners with GREENCROWN Energy Advisors and had been saving money on their bill for years by purchasing energy from competitive suppliers. The park now offsets every watt of power it consumes with Renewable Energy Credits provided by Direct Energy Business. The commitment to green energy is equivalent to taking 100 homes off the grid and adds to Grounds For Sculpture's LEED compliance.

To cut down on energy bills even more, the team has been working on a large solar array installment across the 75,000 square foot rooftop of The Seward Johnson Center for the Arts. The 600-kilowatt solar panel installation will power the facility directly and is expected to cut electricity use by approximately 90 percent. With such a significant drop in energy drawn from the grid and lower consumption during peak times, the sculpture park expects to see other fees on their energy bill drop, too.

Grounds For Sculpture also carries this leadership in energy suitability into their educational programs. Some of the programming is more formalized, such as helping visitors harness solar energy to complete an art project. Other education unfolds as visitors spend time in the space, using digital (instead of paper) maps and recyclable products in the café.

"Education, programming and messaging are a very important. We want visitors to feel that they are able to contribute," explains Marketing Manager George Chevalier. “This is a new way to be around environmental and financial sustainability. The environment itself is still comfortable and aesthetically appealing, and you don't necessarily feel all of the efficiencies happening around you."




Why Stop There?

Not only is Grounds For Sculpture the first Public Assembly project in the world to attain LEED v4.1 Gold certification, but it is the first LEED v4.1 Gold certified project of any kind in the state of New Jersey. The team welcomes this recognition, but they're not letting it slow them down.

The team isn't shy about their target for 2020: a LEED v4.1 Platinum certification, requiring a score of 80 or higher from LEED – a 9-point increase from their current rating achievement. Between their sustainable energy buying strategy, a powerful new solar installation, and ongoing improvements to the grounds, they have a shot at it. They're also planning to install electric car chargers.

"We all have a mind towards advancing further into the digital age, and leading, rather than following, in these important areas," says Chevalier. "There will always be work to be done, so there's no resting on our laurels."


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