By Tom Larson
All was right at the West Central Research and Outreach Center on Thursday. The WCROC's wind turbine, stalled since late February, was cranking out electricity once again, the temperature was warm, a breeze was blowing, and a host of University of Minnesota officials were on hand to break ground on the center's new 5,260 square foot expansion project.
Jerry Wright, the center's interim director, also got to announce that a new 220-seat theatre-style meeting and seminar space would be named the AgCountry Auditorium thanks to a gift from the Fargo-based financial services company.
The $3.3 million renovation project, which was initiated nine years ago, could be completed by mid-December and will be a demonstration, research and education model for existing WCROC programs and renewable energy and green building technology.
"This will further enhance our efforts in this emerging field," Wright said. "We not only want to be a leader in renewable and green energy, but also want to lead by example."
The officials at Thursday's groundbreaking included Allen Levine, Dean of the University of Minnesota's College of Food, Agriculture and Natural Resource Sciences, Bev Durgan, Dean and Director of the U of M's Extension and Minnesota Agricultural Experiment Station, University of Minnesota, Morris Chancellor Jacquie Johnson, Marv Langerud, Senior Vice President of Producer Marketing for AgCountry, Mike Reese, Director of the WCROC's Renewable Energy Program, and Dan Miller, of JLG Architects, which designed the project.
The current building, constructed in 1972, will be enhanced thanks to a $2.2 million outlay approved by the Minnesota Legislature in 2008. After the expansion, it will be home to innovative programs in dairy, swine, horticulture and crop systems, as well as Extension programs.
Renewable energy and sustainability will be the new facility's hallmarks. It will be constructed with that in mind, and will be a research platform from which energy, sustainability and conservation will be tailored for residential and business uses, Reese said.
Miller said those efforts will extend immediately to the construction. There will be limited site disruption, space will be maximized, parking will not need to be expanded, and water conservation will be above construction standards. Geothermal operations will be enhanced, and up to 75 percent of the construction waste could be recycled.
Costs also will be watched closely.
"Sustainable construction doesn't have to cost more," Miller said. "More common sense choices can happen along the way."
The building will be constructed on a "plug and play" philosophy, through which emerging technology can be adopted immediately, Miller said.
"How sustainable this facility is isn't known because it's only going to get better," he said.
In keeping with the university's mission, education will continue to be the center's primary concern, said Durgan.
"We look at this as a place where the community can come to the university, give us their advice, tell us what they need and how the university can help meet those needs," she said.
The wind turbine, which was shut down while repairs were made to its transformer, has been back in operation for a week.
The turbine was closed down Feb. 26 and WCROC officials feared it would need to be completely refurbished at a cost of about $40,000 to $50,000.
However, a part that controls voltages -- and costs about $8,200 -- was the cause of the problems, said Cory Marquart, an engineer in the WCROC's Renewable Energy department.