Planning, Design and Construction

Major Capital Projects

Cal Poly has established itself as a leader in sustainable building design and construction, both for new buildings and major renovations.  Major Capital Projects (over $600K in value) are primarily managed by Facilities Planning and Capital Projects. 

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Minor Capital Projects

Minor Capital Projects (under $600K in value) such as remodels, small renovations, maintenance and repair of buildings, grounds, and utilities are managed by Facility Services.

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Design Principles

Whether a project has a budget of $10,000 or $100,000,000, Facility Services and Facilities Planning strive to make sure that projects are designed and constructed with the environment in mind.   Sustainability issues are considered during every phase of a construction project - programming, design, construction, startup, and commissioning.  Throughout the life of a building, sustainability is used to guide operations and maintenance, including renovation and eventual replacement.  New construction, renovations and operations are guided by the following:

Cal Poly Master Plan

The campus Master Plan sets forth the types, sizes and locations of buildings and other physical facilities of the campus.  A major update of the plan was adopted by the Board of Trustees in 2001, and minor adjustments have been approved since.  The Master Plan is more than a map and articulates principles that prescribe how development should occur and how resources should be protected and enhanced.  Many of the Master Plan principles relate directly to issues of sustainability.  Foremost is the incorporation of the Environmental Impact Report, a comprehensive assessment of potential environmental impacts resulting from campus development and operations.  This allows development at Cal Poly to be largely “self-mitigating” in that the Master Plan was designed to account for, reduce, or avoid potential environmental impacts.  The Cal Poly Master Plan has been cited by the Chancellor’s Office as a model for Master Planning in the 23 campus CSU system.  To view the current Cal Poly Master Plan, maps, archives, Environmental Impact Report, and other relevant documents, click here
The Master Plan incorporates a number of sustainability principles to guide the future growth and development of the campus.  These include:

  • Compact Core and Open Space Preservation - A key feature of the master plan is the intensification of the campus academic core while preserving most other land holdings in open space, including agriculture.  Cal Poly owns and manages over 4000 acres of open space in San Luis Obispo County and thus plays an important role in maintaining the rural character of the area.  Prime agriculture lands are to be reserved for agriculture or closely related uses.
  • Resource Protection - The Master Plan not only protects agricultural land, but other important resources including streams, wetlands, groundwater, biological habitats, sensitive species, and archaeologically significant areas.  Preserves have been established on especially sensitive areas.  Water resources are regularly monitored.  Cal Poly has developed a Water Quality Management Plan and a Storm Water Pollution Prevention Program.  Cal Poly has also, largely through CAFES (the College of Agriculture, Food, and Environmental Sciences), undertaken resource enhancement projects including improvements to riparian habitats in the Chorro Valley and migratory fish habitats along Stenner and Brizzolara Creeks. 
  • Housing, Commuting and Parking - Cal Poly has committed to reducing automobile use on the campus through its parking policies, subsidizing transit use, encouraging other alternative transportation modes, converting campus streets into a pedestrian oriented campus, and developing more on-campus housing primarily for students, but also faculty and staff.

CSU Executive Order 987

Cal Poly operates under Executive Order 987, the CSU Policy Statement on Energy Conservation, Sustainable Building Practices, and Physical Plant Management. This document sets minimum efficiency standards for new construction and renovations, and establishes operating practices intended to ensure CSU buildings are operated and maintained in the most energy efficient and sustainable manner possible while still meeting the programmatic needs of the University.

Cal Poly Energy Policies

These policies and procedures are intended to provide guidance to Facility Managers and the campus community regarding acceptable building temperatures, efficient building operations, procurement and use of Energy Star appliances, criteria for justification of air conditioning, and design and operation of energy efficient air conditioning systems.


Cal Poly uses the United States Green Building Council’s LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) rating system to guide sustainable design of new buildings, renovations, and operations.  As per CSU policy, all new facilities are designed to be equivalent to a minimum LEED Certified level, with the goal of each project achieving LEED Silver or higher.  Since state general funds may not be used to pay for certification, the University attempts to find alternate sources of funding for LEED certification of each project.  Cal Poly was awarded LEED Silver certification of the Faculty Offices East building in 2008 and LEED Gold certification of the Poly Canyon Village student housing project in 2009, resulting in over 25% of the campus square footage being LEED certified.  Poly Canyon Village is the largest LEED certified project in the CSU.  In addition, Cal Poly has a number of LEED Accredited Professionals within the staff of Facility Services and Facilities Planning.

Title 24 – California Energy Efficiency Standards

By state law, all new construction and renovation projects in California must comply with Title 24 Energy Efficiency Standards.  Title 24 sets minimum efficiency standards for the building envelope (roofs, walls, doors, windows, and insulation systems) as well as building energy and water systems including HVAC (Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning), lighting systems, and plumbing systems.  The latest edition of Title 24, issued in 2005, sets the highest energy efficiency standards in the nation.  Cal Poly, as per CSU Executive Order 987, must design new buildings to exceed Title 24 by a minimum of 15%.  Renovations must exceed Title 24 by a minimum of 10%.  The California Title 24 Energy Efficiency Standards may be viewed at:

ASHRAE 90.1 – Energy Standard for Buildings

The American Society of Heating, Refrigeration, and Air Conditioning Engineers publishes a number of technical standards that guide the design, manufacture, and construction of HVAC&R equipment and systems.  ASHRAE 90.1 is the Energy Standard for buildings in the United States, and has been a key driver of energy efficiency improvements in the building industry.  The US Department of Energy requires every state in the US to adopt an energy code that meets or exceeds ASHRAE 90.1.


Laboratory buildings are notorious energy and water hogs.  Many energy systems in lab buildings run 24 hours per day, and heating and cooling systems usually use 100% fresh outside air for safety, meaning that all conditioned air supplied to occupied spaces is exhausted rather than reused.  A single fume hood can use as much energy as an average US home.  Since lab buildings are exempt from Title 24 Energy Code for safety reasons, a new voluntary benchmarking system, Labs21, has been developed by the EPA and Lawrence Berkeley Labs to establish best practices in lab design and promote the development and adoption of advanced strategies for energy and water efficiency.  The Labs21 program was an essential in guiding the design of the new Center for Science building. 

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Sustainable Design Process

Cal Poly has developed an approach to the design of new buildings to ensure that sustainability is a top priority.  This process starts during programming and carries all the way through startup and commissioning.

Program Development

The first step in design and construction of a new building is programming.  This process answers the basic questions necessary to define a building project:

  • How many classrooms, labs, and offices are needed for the academic programs that will be housed?
  • How much square footage is needed?
  • How will spaces be used and how will instruction take place?
  • How are spaces, areas, activities, groups, and traffic flows in the building related?
  • What are the building’s equipment and technology needs?
  • What are the building’s environmental requirements?
  • What are the building’s utility needs and where are campus utilities available?
  • What are the project goals and performance requirements?
  • What are the characteristics of the site?
  • What is the project budget?

The program is developed by an Architect working in conjunction with Facilities Planning and the client – the academic and/or administrative department(s) that will occupy the building.  This process is very interactive and the end result is a set of documents that describe the building project in enough detail to ensure that the academic program needs will be met, the necessary spaces will be built with the required functionality, and the project requirements and budget will be clearly defined.  Once the program is completed, the project may advance to detailed design, starting with selection of the design team.

Selection of Design Team

RFQ/RFP:  Design consultants, frequently referred to as the A&E (Architecture and Engineering) Team, are solicited by RFP (Request for Proposal) or RFQ (Request for Qualifications).  The design team is usually led by an Architect, who puts together a team of subconsultants which include a Mechanical/Plumbing Engineer, Electrical/Telecomm Engineer, Structural Engineer, and Landscape Architect.  Depending on the unique needs of a project, additional design specialists may be brought in to address issues such as acoustics, interior design, lab design, theatrical or special lighting, and sound systems.  In Cal Poly’s RFQ/RFP, respondents are asked to provide information regarding the design team’s qualifications, education, experience, and portfolio of completed projects.
Interview/Presentation:  Upon review of A&E submittals to the RFQ/RFP, a short list of the most capable firms is invited to campus for interview by the selection committee, and is given the opportunity to give a presentation about their firm’s capabilities and accomplishments.
Selection Committee:  The selection committee, comprised of staff from Facilities Planning, Facility Services, the Contracts and Procurement Office, and the client then select the design team that best meets the project needs.  Selection Criteria:  Besides the usual knowledge, skills, and relevant project experience, selection criteria include sustainable design philosophy, design innovation, and demonstrated ability to achieve high levels of energy and water efficiency, and LEED certification.  Once the design team is selected, one of the first steps in the design process is the Sustainability Charrette.

Sustainability Charrette

The Sustainability Charrette is an intense brainstorming exercise that takes place at the beginning of the design process and involves all project stakeholders:

  • The client including the Dean, Department Heads, faculty, staff, and students.
  • The full design team of Architects, Engineers and any specialty consultants.
  • Facilities Planning including the Project Administrator and Project Manager.
  • Facility Services including the Executive Director, Sustainability Manager, Project Managers, skilled trades, custodians, and landscape services.
  • Environmental Health and Safety.
  • Information Technology Services and Media Distribution Services.
  • The Program Management firm (if needed for large projects).
  • The Construction Management firm (for CM at Risk projects).
  • The Commissioning Agent.

Process: In the Sustainability Charrette, the various stakeholders exchange ideas and brainstorm issues related to the project requirements and programmatic needs, design process and methodology, structural systems, energy systems, materials, and construction methods.  The Charrette is an opportunity for outreach and education so that building users will understand the design, construction, and life cycle cost implications of their space and program needs.  Conversely, designers become more aware of the University’s priorities, requirements, and campus standards.  Options for the building shell, structural system, heating, cooling and lighting systems, plumbing systems, materials and finishes, and other design details are considered and evaluated, and reduced to a short list (typically about 3 different designs or types for each major component or system).  These options are then more fully modeled, analyzed, and evaluated during the detailed design process.  Building components and systems are evaluated based on sustainability criteria such as energy efficiency, water efficiency, use of recycled, rapidly renewable, or local materials, life cycle cost, constructability, ease of use and maintenance, durability, toxicity and health impacts, indoor air quality, and emissions of environmental pollutants and greenhouse gases.

Goals and Metrics: Design goals are established with metrics for energy efficiency, water efficiency, use of recycled materials, diversion of construction waste, and other criteria based on the USGBC LEED Rating System, California Title 24 Energy Efficiency Standards, ASHRAE 90.1, and Labs21.  An initial run through of the LEED checklist is performed to ensure the project can achieve LEED Silver certification or equivalency, or higher.

Outcomes: At the completion of the Sustainability Charrette, the various stakeholders have all gotten a “big picture” view of the project, established contacts will all members of the team, and has an understanding of roles, responsibilities, and dependencies.  The design team will have narrowed their focus to a few design options and will have a clear understanding of the desired building performance criteria, along with a set of metrics to track progress toward sustainability goals, such as those for the Rec Center Expansion Project.

Campus Standards

Based on lessons learned from many years of operation and maintenance of campus buildings and infrastructure systems, Cal Poly has developed Campus Standards for a wide variety of building materials, components, equipment, and systems.  In some cases, these standards set performance requirements that can be met by competitive bid.  In other cases, standards require a particular product, system, or vendor be used to maintain consistency with existing campus systems.  These standards seek to avoid problems like having a new building with paper towel dispensers that don’t fit the paper towels used by Custodial Services, or having to stock a large number of unusual size light bulbs or lamps.  Standards exist for door locks, building automation control systems, electrical switchgear and service panels, plumbing fixtures, irrigation controls, and many others.

Project Review Procedure

Cal Poly seeks to make the design process very collaborative and interactive, using an integrated design process that strives to produce a satisfied client, a project that is delivered on time and under budget, and a high performance building that is functional, flexible, efficient, attractive, and sustainable.  To accomplish this, a project review procedure and a project review matrix have been developed to ensure that all stakeholders have the opportunity to be involved, review plans and specifications, and provide input to the design team.  Furthermore, the design team is required to track all comments received from the project stakeholders, and report on the status of every comment at each stage of design – whether it was able to be incorporated in the design, or why not.  While this process is time consuming on the part of both reviewers and designers, it has proven to produce a more focused design, identifies problems earlier when they are easier and cheaper to resolve, before beginning Cal Poly's Offical Project Inspection Procedure, which results in better budget control and reduced change orders during construction. 


Commissioning is a highly detailed process of inspection, testing and documentation that is intended to ensure that buildings and systems are functioning properly and meet or exceed the designer’s performance requirements.  A Certified Commissioning Agent is a key member of the design and construction management team, and is involved beginning with the Sustainability Charrette, throughout design and construction, during startup and testing of the building, and for the first year of operation.  The Commissioning Agent is hired directly by the University rather than the design team or contractor to avoid any possible conflict of interest.  The Commissioning Agent develops the OPR – Owner’s Project Requirements, as well as a comprehensive set of commissioning specifications which the contractor and subs are required to follow.  These specifications include prefunctional and functional testing of building systems such as HVAC, lighting, fire/life safety, and building automation controls.  The specs require that systems are tested to prove their operation, with careful measurements taken of temperatures, pressures, flow rates, and status of equipment.  Sequences of operation are proven, and systems are tested in multiple seasons to ensure they perform properly in all weather conditions.

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Current and Past Projects

Cal Poly has a number of capital projects currently under construction, or in planning and design.  Each project strives to be sustainable in the areas of energy and water efficiency, use of renewable and recycled materials, recycling of construction waste, site erosion control, and use of native and drought tolerant plant species.  

Rec Center Expansion

The Cal Poly Rec Center Expansion Project, scheduled to begin construction in Winter of 2010, is a student fee funded project that will nearly double the size of the Student Rec Center and will add new features to meet student needs for exercise, fitness, wellness, and recreation.  The project will add new fitness areas and equipment, a new two court gymnasium, a multi activity center, wellness center, indoor running track, and a leisure pool.  The building is designed with a number of sustainable and energy efficient features, including:

  • As voted overwhelmingly by student referendum, the building shall be at a minimum of LEED Silver certified.
  • Overall, the Student Rec Center will exceed California Title 24 Energy Efficiency Standards by 22.9%, significantly higher than the CSU requirement of 15%.  Air conditioning will be provided by direct/indirect evaporative cooling air handlers which use 90% less cooling energy than conventional air conditioning units and perform energy recovery from building exhaust air.  Building heating and supplementary cooling will be provided by the campus central plant, which has high efficiency boilers and chillers.  Building temperatures will be controlled by a digital Energy Management System to optimize comfort and reduce energy use.
  • Indoor lighting systems will use high efficiency fluorescent lights, with occupancy sensors and daylighting controls.  Outdoor lighting will utilize high efficiency LED.
  • The project will install solar thermal panels to provide a portion of the pool’s heating requirements with free energy from the sun.
  • During construction, a minimum of 75% of all construction waste will be recycled or otherwise diverted from landfill.
  • The project will reduce indoor water usage by over 30% by replacing all plumbing fixtures with low flow fixtures.
  • The project will strive to utilize recycled, rapidly renewable, and local materials, low VOC paints and adhesives, and green cleaning products.
  • Students in the Electrical and Mechanical Engineering departments are working on a new generation of energy producing exercise machines, including an exercise bike, rowing machine, and elliptical machine.  These machines are currently undergoing development and testing, with the goal of obtaining approvals to operate them as grid tied electrical generators.  It is hoped that these machines can be installed for demonstration when the building is complete.

Poly Canyon Village

The Poly Canyon Village student housing project is a milestone for Cal Poly.  As the largest student housing project in the nation, Poly Canyon Village brings an additional 2,700 students to live on campus in a state of the art sustainable facility.  Poly Canyon has a number of design features making it energy and water efficient and sustainable.  These include:

  • The complex exceeds California Title 24 Energy Efficiency Standards - student apartments are not air conditioned and utilize natural ventilation via operable windows; air conditioning systems for administrative offices and retail spaces are high efficiency; student apartments are heated by radiant hot water panels integrated into the ceiling - these have no moving parts, no heat losses, and use just 10% of the energy used by blowers that supply heated air; all heating, cooling, and hot water systems are controlled by a sophisticated digital energy management system.
  • The building uses 30% less water than allowed by the 1992 Energy Policy Act by using low flow plumbing fixtures, native and drought tolerant species in landscaping, and computerized irrigation controls.
  • Heating of the complex is delivered by two central plants utilizing high efficiency boilers and cogeneration.
  • Housing of 2,700 students on campus significantly reduces transportation impacts from commuting including traffic, air pollution, and emission of greenhouse gas.
  • Poly Canyon Village received LEED Gold certification in 2009, making it the largest LEED certified project in the CSU.

Poly Canyon Village

Building History

Founded in 1901, Cal Poly has a rich architectural history.  The current campus still has a number of historic buildings with the oldest dating back to 1908.  The history of sustainability on campus is visible in the evolution of campus building design and construction over the different eras of the last century. Many early buildings reflect the Spanish architecture of the central coast, with plaster finishes and terra cotta tile roofs.  A construction boom followed World War II as returning veterans used the GI bill to complete their education.  Buildings of this time were utilitarian, simple and cheap.  Campus doubled in size during the massive construction boom of the 1960’s, which ushered in the era of monolithic concrete structures.  These proved to be very sustainable due to their durability and passive building features such as natural ventilation and large thermal mass.  Even though energy and water were considered relatively cheap and limitless commodities prior to the energy crisis of the 1970’s, the campus administration made a conscious decision not to air condition the vast majority of buildings, taking advantage of the mild central coast climate.  The technology boom of the 1980’s brought higher education into the digital age, and the proliferation and density of computers created a need to air condition both new and existing buildings.  The massive escalation of construction and material costs of the late 1990’s and early 2000’s essentially ended the era of concrete buildings due to high costs.  Designs evolved to the use of steel frame construction with more complex wall, roof, and window systems to make building systems energy efficient.  Over the years, the perpetually developing campus has been extensively documented including everything from significant changes in HVAC, lighting, and plumbing systems, with the largest changes beginning in the 1980’s with the advent of computerized building automation control systems.