$4 million system will save water  now used to cool buildings

NOVATO -- The Buck Institute for Age Research will begin drilling holes for its upcoming geothermal project in the middle of June, according to Ralph O'Rear, vice president of facilities.

The field is a substitute for the evaporative towers that are currently used to cool the buildings.

“Instead of using the towers, we use the ground. It saves energy and it saves water,” he said. “We are going to save so much money.”

The $4 million project will consist of 325 holes, each 400 feet deep.

“We have been thinking about this for over three years,” he said.

The institute is also in the process of building a new research wing on the northwest Novato campus. The new facility is on track for March 2012 completion, according to the institution.

The full project cost is $37 million, $4 million of which is going toward the geothermal piece.

He said it looks to be as early as September for the startup of the unit.

“We are also doing energy efficiency projects in the building that is going to connect to the field,” he said.

Testing and operating will happen in October.

“Once it goes in we will keep track and at the end of one year we will be able to be able to gauge carbon footprint.”

He said he is excited about the rollout of the unit.

“From day one, we will be saving water. It is old technology but new for this size and scale.”

The institute is also planning to launch its own graduate degree program and is preparing to add more parking and on-site housing for employees and students.

The housing, 128 units of which would be classified affordable, are meant for both the institute’s 190 employees as well as  students in a graduate program in the works.

“We have Dominican students and students from other institutions from around the world,” said Mary McEachron, chief administrative officer. “We have been talking to the Western Association of Schools and Colleges Accrediting Commission, and we are in the planning stages of a much more intense program.”

“We are working on feasibility studies on the housing,” she said.

The new budget will not be adopted until July 1. So nothing will be done on either the housing project or the graduate program until then.