By Stephanie R. Herndon ’07
Quiz time! What is the newest, most modern and eco-friendly building on Florida Tech’s main campus? The answer is the Folliard Alumni Center, the new home base for Panthers.
The sleek new building is the first sight to greet campus visitors entering from the north end of campus, and the view is quite a treat for the eyes. Contemporary architectural lines, modern lighting and the latest design aesthetics give a first impression that’s sure to impress.
But there’s so much more going on with this building than meets the eye.
What visitors won’t immediately see is the center’s green roots—the eco-friendly sustainability features at the core of the building’s design and goals. Nobody is more familiar with these features than Dr. Troy Nguyen, associate professor of mechanical and civil engineering, an expert in energy and power systems. Dr. Nguyen served as principal investigator for the Folliard Alumni Center project.
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and Renew
“Our goal is to achieve a zero-energy objective. This means the building needs to produce, over a year’s time, enough electricity to offset 100% of the electricity consumed by the building,” Dr. Nguyen says. “We used a two-prong approach. One is to use solar energy to generate electricity. The other is to build a facility that is highly thermally insulating, minimizing the amount of energy consumed.”
Not only are the lights throughout the building LEDs—which use less energy and create less heat, requiring less energy to cool the air—but there’s much more technology at play with the lighting system.
Independently controlled, zoned LED light fixtures allow building occupants to light only a portion of the conference room, for example. If a small group is in the corner, there is no need to waste energy to light the entire room.
If the occupancy sensors detect that a person is no longer in the room, it shuts off the lights automatically. Gone are the days of consuming energy to light a room all night if the occupant forgets to turn off the lights when they leave.
Although beautiful, the large amount of glass throughout the building is not just an aesthetic choice; it allows sunlight to flow through the building, reducing the need for electric light. Florida is the Sunshine State, after all. Daylight sensors detect the amount of natural sunlight coming into the building and adjust the intensity of the electrical lighting accordingly, using an optimal mix of electricity and sunlight to balance energy efficiency and visibility.
Those windows letting in the sunlight? They’re energy-efficient, so they’re letting in the light without the Florida heat. Also keeping those heatwaves at bay are supremely efficient insulation and a roof painted white to reflect the heat away from the building.
Further taking advantage of the Florida sunshine, a solar array stands in the parking lot next to the center. The solar panels fuel the electric car charging station in the parking lot and help power the building itself, routing power to the battery storage system, which stores extra energy in case of a power failure event.
This solar power, coupled with reduced energy consumption, makes Folliard Alumni Center a net-zero energy building. Florida Tech recently received a silver rating in the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System from the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education for projects including the alumni center. Dr. Nguyen and his team are currently working on raising funds to apply for LEED gold certification.
Sensors throughout the building monitor and control the energy usage of every office, every light, the water heater, the air conditioning system and all other electric equipment. These data feed into the building automation system—the “brain room,” as some refer to it—to minimize energy consumption, maximize occupant comfort and continually learn how to be more efficient.
“This is the most interesting space in the building,” says Dr. Nguyen. “Since the beginning, we intended this project to be a teaching platform and a research platform.”
Since 2017, 10 graduate students have worked on this project. In the future, once more data is collected from the building, the data coming from the brain room will be utilized by even more students to study classroom principles applied in the real world.
This data is also being shared outside the campus to help inform future green building projects. “I sit on the City of Melbourne’s Energy Efficiency and Beautification Board,” says Dr. Nguyen. “The city is building a new police station. There’s strong interest from the city to visit our facility to gain some perspective from this research. The pandemic has delayed that, but hopefully, soon we can bring board members and city council over to tour the building, and they can use some of what we’ve learned in the future development of the police department and other city facilities.”
Dr. Nguyen’s team has committed to doing outreach in the community post-pandemic to teach local K–12 children about renewable technologies and local industry partners, contractors and technicians about green building construction.
Part of the funding for the building came from a grant from the state of Florida Office of Energy’s Renewable Energy and Energy Efficient Technology grant program. The goal of this program is to demonstrate and research the performance of zero-energy commercial building practices. The metrics collected from the building will go back to the state to illustrate how zero-energy commercial building design can be cost-effective and scalable.
At a nonprofit institution like Florida Tech, funding a new, state-of-the-art building requires not only grant funding but the benevolence of donors. Knowing the importance of having a new home base for our alumni, several Panthers stepped up to the plate to make the dream a reality.
“The realization of the new Folliard Alumni Center would not have happened if not for the tremendous support of our alumni,” says Bino Campanini ’90, ’92 MBA, Florida Tech’s senior vice president of student life and alumni affairs and the Florida Tech Alumni Association’s (FTAA) executive director.
“I’m especially grateful to our donors who generously donated for named spaces at the center, in addition to FTAA board members Andy Kirbach ’90 and Mike Kalajian ’95, who provided all the site engineering, permitting and structural engineering for the project at no charge. These generous contributions enabled us to leverage the support of the university and the State of Florida grant to build a facility of which our alumni can take pride.”
Tom ’89 and Mary ’92 Folliard
Benefactors of the Folliard Alumni Center
Both Florida Tech athletes during their undergraduate years, Tom and Mary met on Florida Tech’s basketball courts. In fact, Panther basketball seems to be part of the Folliard DNA. Tom’s father, Tom Folliard Sr., was a Florida Tech basketball coach from 1984 to 1991, and Tom’s brother, Kevin, was a fellow teammate. Soon Tom and Mary’s courtside courtship turned into marriage and parenthood, and their four children—you guessed it—played or are playing basketball at their respective institutions as well.
The basketball team and the support of the university’s staff—and one coach in particular—during some trying times forged an affinity for Florida Tech that the Folliards have not forgotten.
“I played women’s basketball, and my coach, Coach John [Reynolds], is still coaching there. He was like my father when I was at school,” Mary says.
“John was very good to us,” adds Tom. “He prioritized our lives and our child over everything else, and we’ve never forgotten that. We feel a big allegiance to the school because when we really needed it, we had support.”
The Folliards were looking for a way to give back to their alma mater, and they say the timing could not have been more perfect. When Campanini, who was friends with the couple during college, brought the idea of the new alumni center to the Folliards, they were on board to help make it happen.
“We liked the idea of alumni having a place to go and continue to be involved with the school. The old alumni house was someone’s house that Florida Tech bought and retrofitted into offices. This new center is more appealing for alumni to have a place to go, a place to come back to, a place to gather.”
Shirley Cui Tarantino ’01 M.S.
Benefactor of the Shirley Cui Tarantino Conference Room
A nontraditional student, Tarantino came to the U.S. from China to attend Florida Tech as an adult to pursue a master’s degree and the prospects a career in the U.S. held. She expected the challenges of cultural change; what surprised her was the positive impact that her Florida Tech experience would have on her.
“Everything I learned about America started from Florida Tech. This school was a changing point of my life,” Tarantino said. “I was struggling through school at times, not only with the language but also working through four jobs, but I was finally able to graduate.”
When reflecting on these experiences, Tarantino knew she wanted to give back to the university—not just in thanks but also as a message to other international students that, despite the challenges, it can be done.
“I realize other students could be just like me. I want to inspire them, show them there’s a possibility if you work hard and take every opportunity, you’re going to make it. My married name, Tarantino, sounds Italian, but I am Chinese. I wanted to keep my Chinese name, Cui, in the middle of the conference room’s name. I would like students to find a connection—to show other international students the possibility of what students can do in this school.”
Larry Pollack ’85 M.S.
Benefactor of The Larry Pollack Terrace
Soon after beginning his career in environmental chemistry, Pollack wanted to pursue an advanced degree. He found Florida Tech to have everything he was looking for, primarily research opportunities and faculty who build a rapport with their students.
While he searched for a way to pay for graduate school, Florida Tech offered Pollack a teaching assistant position within the departmental labs that produced a small but very helpful stipend.
“It was great to get a paycheck while doing fun things. I have not forgotten that $1,500 per quarter and want to pay it back many, many times over.”
When he made a campus visit and learned about the planning of the new alumni center, he knew he wanted to give back to the university by providing a gift toward the new building.
“The patio seemed most appropriate, as a large portion of my time while attending Florida Tech was spent enjoying the outdoor environment—everything from taking scuba lessons at Hatt’s dive shop (where scuba became a lifelong passion) to running my first 10K race, to catching my first fish!”
Jack Pruitt ’92
Benefactor of the Jack Pruitt Office Spaces
Trustee emeritus JACK PRUITT ’92 established the Jack and Pat Pruitt Endowment in 2007 to supply funds to be used where the need is greatest, as deemed by the university’s president. While identifying funding sources for the Folliard Alumni Center, Campanini realized that the endowment was roughly equal to the cost of building out the office spaces. He proposed the idea of using the funds for the center to Florida Tech President Dwayne McCay, who agreed that the building was important to our campus community and an appropriate use of the funds.
A New Home for Alumni
Campanini says working with several people to make this project a reality has been a gratifying experience.
“All parties—the alumni office, academic departments, the facilities team, corporate partners and our amazing alumni donors—worked toward the same goal of creating a unique facility that would stand as a model of energy efficiency as well as a dedicated space for our alumni.”
Kirbach echoes those thoughts, as well.
“I’m so proud of the collaboration of the entire team and the support from Dr. McCay, trustees, Tom and Mary Folliard, alumni and the community to make the project a reality.”
Seeing other alumni giving their time, support and resources to Florida Tech compels Kirbach to continue doing the same through this project and others. He and Kalajian are both offering their professional engineering services to the Health Sciences Research Center and Mertens Marine Center projects, both currently under construction.
Campanini and his Alumni Affairs team, having worked in the building for several months, say the office space has been a beautiful and comfortable environment. The conference room has served as a classroom since fall to help the university meet its classroom COVID-19 protocols, with positive feedback from the students and faculty. Once standard protocols resume, the campus will be open for visitors to see the building for themselves.
“This dedicated meeting space will allow for a myriad of opportunities for our alumni, including networking, mentoring and social gatherings,” Campanini says. “From alumni checking in to learn about activities to hosting receptions for our outstanding alumni award winners, it will be a central touchpoint for our Homecoming festivities.”
Not only will the conference room serve as a gathering place, so will the outdoor terrace behind the center.
“This is actually my favorite feature of the building, which we hope will be completed this fall,” Campanini says. “It will include a covered canopy area, a fire pit and other cool features. This will allow us to take advantage of the fantastic weather we enjoy here in late fall and in the spring to host outdoor events.”
The FTAA has hosted two board meetings in the new center.
“As soon as you walk in, you feel like you’re in a happy and professional gathering place, perfect for alumni to reconnect with their alma mater,” says FTAA president Fin Bonset ’96, ’99 MSA. “This building represents the new face of Florida Tech, always forward-thinking and welcoming to students, staff and alumni alike.”
“Having this beautiful building will give current students a better idea of what it means to continue a relationship with the university after graduation,” says FTAA vice president Sherry Acanfora-Ruohomaki ’93, ’00, ’05 M.S.
This piece was featured in the spring 2021 edition of Florida Tech Magazine.