GreenSpace: Energy efficiency reaches new Heights

By Dawn Schuett

The Post-Bulletin, Rochester MN

Earth Day at Assisi Heights

In celebration of Earth Day, there are two upcoming programs at Assisi Heights, 1001 14th St. N.W., Rochester.

• Bluebirds and savannas: From 3:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. Thursday, Blair Larson, an instructor at ROC Charter School, and students will discuss their work on bluebird monitoring and recovery and the prairie and oak savanna restoration at Assisi Heights. Visitors should gather at Canticle Park.

• Water resources: From 3:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, Terry Lee, Olmsted County's water resources coordinator, will speak about what's being done to save local lakes, rivers and wetlands. The presentation will be at Assisi Heights Spirituality Center.

Admission is free for both events. To register, call 280-2195 or e-mail

One of Rochester's landmarks can now be counted among the most energy-efficient buildings in the city.

Assisi Heights has earned Energy Star status from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Although the Energy Star label may be more commonly known as the symbol on appliances and other products that meet requirements for energy efficiency, the EPA also uses it for a program that assesses commercial and industrial buildings.

Built in the 1950s as the motherhouse of the Sisters of Saint Francis, Assisi Heights is more than 400,000-square-feet. The facility underwent its first major renovation about five years ago. Work was done at that time to improve the efficiency of the utility systems, said Sister Marlene Pinzka, congregational treasurer.


Staff from the facilities department at Mayo Clinic, which leases spaces at Assisi Heights, assisted the Sisters of Saint Francis with an energy audit in 2008 that identified more ways to conserve. They switched from incandescent lights to fluorescent lights, added an optic sensor to a kitchen hood so it would only operate when needed and installed water chillers for air conditioning.

The use of electricity and natural gas is also constantly monitored and reduced during peak times, Pinzka said. Reducing their carbon footprint is part of the Corporate Stance of the Sisters of Saint Francis.

"We certainly believe in conservation whenever possible," she said, "and to be as green as possible in our total usage of water, energy, etc."

The EPA's Energy Star program evaluates a facility based on data provided about its energy performance and then rates it on a scale from 1 to 100. A building must score 75 or higher to earn the Energy Star, meaning its energy use is lower compared to other similar commercial buildings. The facilities awarded the Energy Star use about 35 percent less energy and release 35 percent less carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, according to the EPA. There is no cost to apply for Energy Star status.

More than 9,700 commercial buildings, including offices, retail stores, schools and manufacturing plants, in the United States have earned the Energy Star. There are 260 of them in Minnesota. Assisi Heights is one of three in Rochester. The others are Dick's Sporting Goods and Kohl's Department Store. Schools in Winona, Austin, Spring Valley and Caledonia have also received the Energy Star.

Considering the size and age of Assisi Heights, Pinzka said, it was surprising that the building could achieve the energy efficiency required by the EPA program. The fact Assisi Heights qualified for the Energy Star will hopefully encourage others to make changes in the buildings they own, she said.

Dawn Schuett is a Farmington freelance writer.

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