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New Mathias Lab at Environmental Research Center will have low environmental impact

With a $45 million federal appropriation to the Smithsonian Institution, the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center in Edgewater, Md., on the Chesapeake Bay, will start building  what is expected to be one of the most energy-efficient laboratories in the country. The expanded and remodeled Mathias Laboratory, named in honor of U.S. Senator  Charles “Mac” Mathias Jr. (1922-2010)  (R-Md.) will have a low environmental impact on all fronts, from where it gets its power to where it gets its materials. Analysts estimate it will consume at least 37 percent less energy, and emit 37 percent less carbon dioxide, than a similar building that meets baseline LEED certification standards. A groundbreaking ceremony for the new facility took place on Friday, May 6 to mark the beginning of the two-year project.

“The Mathias Laboratory project is a cornerstone of the Smithsonian’s environmental research, education and commitment to sustainability,” explains Smithsonian Secretary Wayne Clough.  The Mathias Laboratory will serve as a lasting and living tribute to the legacy of  Sen. Mathias, who was a leader in the efforts to restore the Chesapeake Bay.

Besides leaving a less intense carbon footprint, the new building will enhance SERC’s capacity for cutting-edge environmental research on the Chesapeake. SERC scientists specialize in a multitude of disciplines, including global change, terrestrial and marine ecology, invasive species and nutrient pollution. The laboratory is designed to promote cross-disciplinary collaboration for SERC’s research teams.

Totaling 90,000 square feet, the new building will add 69,000 square feet of laboratory, office and support space to 21,000 square feet of remodeled existing space. A two-story atrium will connect the old and new sections and create an area where staff from various departments can share ideas.

“Thia new laboratory represents a renewed long-term commitment by the Smithsonian to world-class environmental research on the Chesapeake Bay estuary and watershed, and on coastal ecosystems around the world,” said SERC Director Anson Hines.

The project will seek gold-level LEED certification by the U.S. Green Building Council, targeting the maximum gold score of 51 credits. The lab already has gained recognition from the national Labs21 program and the Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory, which expressed interest in featuring the Mathias Laboratory as a national model.

The laboratory also will use regional materials to prevent long-distance transportation and use only certified sustainable wood.

Image: Architect’s rendition of the new Mathias Lab, complete with solar panels, rain barrels and reconstructed wetlands. Credit: EwingCole. More images available on request.


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