Firm management

Inside the Means & Methods to Delivering Millersville University’s First Zero Energy Building

By AIA Contract Documents, May 15, 2020


Designed to achieve net zero energy consumption, the new Lombardo Welcome Center at Millersville University in Millersville, Pennsylvania, sets a high performance standard for all future buildings on the campus and likely throughout the region.

The 14,600-square-foot nature-inspired building is the first International Living Future Institute-certified zero energy building in the state and one of the few in the country. The center produces its own energy from 528 solar panels and a 20 well geothermal heat pump systems. The combination of solar panels and geothermal heating make Lombardo Center approximately 60 percent more efficient than any other building on the Millersville campus. Even more impressive, since opening, the flagship building has produced 25% more energy than it uses, making it a net positive structure, an impressive accomplishment for a building that is open 24 hours a day.

Delivering this innovative structure required considerable coordination, continuous communication and sound contract documents.

Documenting Change

Construction of the Lombardo Center began in 2017, though planning and design had begun several years prior.

Salvatore B. Verrastro, Principal with Spillman Farmer Architects, the architect-of-record for the project, recalls, “We were one of six candidates that competed for the project. The owner was looking for architects who had done work for the University in the past and who had experience with sustainable design.”

The primary goal of the project as defined by the University president was to be certified under the International Living Future Institute’s Living Building Challenge green building standard.

Unlike LEED, the Living Building Challenge standard emphasizes the design and construction of buildings that are net zero or net positive energy, are free of toxic chemicals, and have an energy footprint many times below the generic commercial structure.

As a first step, Verrastro brought in the G612™ – Owner’s Instructions to the Architect. The questionnaire is intended to gather information from the owner regarding the details of the construction contract. The two-part document includes one section related to contracts and the second to bidding procedures, outlining methods and procedures that may affect drawings and specifications.

“I’ve been using the G612 for 25 years. I used it on this project from the earliest meetings with owners as a way to better understand and clarify responsibilities,” Verrastro explains. “This is not your average building so answering detailed questions like who’s writing bidder instructions is vital to ensuring clarity on both sides. This project was a collaborative process. Together, we were able to help them refine details such as the insurance and operational requirements.”

Limits of Liability

As a public institution, Millersville University is required to use the Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) standardized contract documents for owner-architect and owner-contractor agreements.

Verrastro understands the reliance on standardized documents in terms of comfort, adding, “They’ve used these documents for 20+ years, but a lot has changed over those years. There’s no way an institution can keep those documents as current as an organization like AIA.”

Specifically, Verrastro points to the familiar problem of clearly documenting responsibilities. He continues, “Delays are always an area of concern. On this project, the contractor was delayed during construction because the PASSHE document didn’t spell out responsibilities, there was no recourse.”

While owner-architect and owner-contractor agreements were from PASSHE, the Spillman Farmer Architect team did rely on several AIA forms during construction including the G701™-2017, Change Order and G709™–2018, Proposal Request documents, to help streamline communication.  As well, Spillman Farmer Architects managed the project from bidding through construction and contract administration, largely relying on the C401™-2017, Standard Form of Agreement Between Architect and Consultant for work with the civil engineer, structural engineer, electrical contractor and MEP/fire protection contractor.

Verrastro explains, “Most consultants, engineers, mechanical, structural, civil, etc. like their own letter of agreement with custom terms and conditions. We prefer the AIA consultant agreement [C401] primarily because of the consistent limits of liability.”

On a project like the Lombardo Welcome Center, where energy use is driving design, these agreements are especially important. “Like any project that outlines energy use, mechanical and electrical systems take priority, and responsibilities shift,” says Verrastro. “The normal percentage for these two areas is around 40%; in this case the mechanical/electrical was more like 50-55% [of the total project cost].”

Spillman Farmer Architects worked closely with In Posse, the MEP engineering firm, to balance the energy use, size and number of geothermal wells, HVAC equipment and the amount of building envelope insulation. In the end the building incorporated 38% more insulation than was required by code. Verrastro adds, “We specifically targeted notoriously weak points of insulation (e.g., wall to roof transition, corners, penetrations) and added additional spray insulation to address these areas to provide a very tight and well insulated building.”


As well, the exterior walls have continuous rigid insulation and a terra cotta rain screen system is used as the exterior cladding. The rainscreen was attached to the wall using a system that limited the amount of thermal conductivity through the rigid insulation making it a very energy efficient system.

Of note, to place the solar panels within ten feet of the edge of the roof required a variance from Pennsylvania Labor & Industry Department 2009 IBC code. The subsequent 2015 IBC code addresses this specific item and states that solar panels are not classified as mechanical equipment because they require little or no maintenance. the solar panels incorporated a bracket support system to mount the panels and a ballast system to keep the supports in place on the low-sloped, EPDM membrane roof, thereby limiting the amount of roof penetrations. On the lobby’s sloped standing seam metal roof, the solar panels were clipped to the vertical seams with a clamp system similar to the type used for snow guards, again limiting the amount of roof penetrations.

There were several discussions regarding the liability, maintenance and warranty of the geothermal wells. Ultimately, Millersville University bid and contract directly with a drilling company for the wells, thereby retaining ownership.

Net-positive Results

Contractors broke ground on the $7.5 million Lombardo Welcome Center in February 2017. The building officially opened in February 2018.

Verrastro concludes, “For the entire team, this building was an eye opener. Not only were we able to deliver a 24/7 operational building that is a net zero energy producer, but it’s actually producing 25% more energy than it needs, making it a net positive building. As well, the cost of the additional systems, like solar panels and geothermal, are paid for within 12-15 years. Most importantly, while there were glitches during construction, the process was smooth thanks in large part to effective contract documents.”

More about the Lombardo Welcome Center

Lombardo Welcome Center is more than a meeting spot; it’s an educational center where the community can go and learn about Millersville, sustainability and emerging energy technologies. Named after Sam and Dena Lombardo, the Lombardo Welcome Center incorporates the ancient Chinese feng shui method of orientation to use the forces of nature to product positive energy.

Salvatore B. Verrastro, Principal with Spillman Farmer Architects, says, “When you walk in, you felt like you’re outside because there’s a lot of glass which is great from an aesthetic appeal, but bad for energy management.”  A feng shui consultant was directly involved in the design and construction process, looking for ways to promote positive energy within the space and create an aura of support and focus.


The university points to the “the open and airy lobby, gentle curved front desk and mis-alignment of the two sets of entrance doors on either end of the lobby” as examples of ways that positive energy works within the building.  As well, gold coins (“coin rulers”) were placed in areas of negative or disruptive influences to further improve overall positive energy.

Chris Steuer, Sustainability Director at Millersville University recently stated, “The Lombardo Welcome Center serves as the flagship building for sustainability on campus and will provide a unique experience for all who visit. The University is committed to achieving carbon neutrality by 2040. This building encapsulates those aspirations in form and in function.”